Touchdown Senator O’Connor: Sportsnet’s Tim Micallef helps beloved Blues return to Toronto high school football

Courtesy: Senator O'Connor

The football program at Senator O’Connor College School returned for the first time in a long time in 2023.

The public high school in North York, Toronto lost its program six years ago. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters from around the country made it possible to restart the Blues by making a financial commitment to the program. In 2023, the squad fielded 54 varsity players, only three of whom had any previous football experience.

“I promised the school in June that if we did this, we would not ask for any money as our athletic budget is already dreadfully low. I did not want it to come at the expense of other student-athletes,” head coach Noel Carrabs said.

“After lots of effort and a call for donations, we cobbled enough money and equipment together, with the help of Football Toronto and Scarborough Thunder, to equip all of our athletes. I was not going to cut anyone.”

Anticipation built for game one against St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School on Sept. 28, bringing students, parents, and alumni out to form a solid crowd. Though the Blues lost the contest, merely being back on the gridiron was a major win for Senator O’Connor.

The highlight of the squad’s 2023 season came in their finale, a Thursday night matchup against Bishop Allen Academy Catholic Secondary School at Ester Shiner Stadium. Senator O’Connor scored in the final two minutes as team captain Joaquin Bullock, a grade 12 student, took a receiver screen into the end zone, sending fans in the stands into a frenzy.

“The noise was deafening and our bench erupted. If ever we needed affirmation that what we did, bringing the team back, was worth it, that was the moment,” Carrabs said. “We played our hearts out and learned more and more every day.”

Courtesy: Senator O’Connor

Carrabs played quarterback at Senator O’Connor for five years and went on to play five seasons at the University of Toronto, three as a team captain. He earned the Varsity Blues’ James A. Bennett Trophy, which is given to the player who, in the opinion of his teammates, exemplifies desire and courage against insurmountable odds, while also garnering the Most Inspirational Player award twice.

“I have never enjoyed a season as successful as this one. Football transcends. The resurrection of this program is not about football at all. It is about our community and all those that have come before us that have made it something to be proud of,” Carrabs said.

Sportsnet personality Tim Micallef and his family have a special place in their hearts for the OCS football team. He and his three brothers each played for the Blues with Tim being the youngest. Mike was a running back and linebacker, Mark a defensive back, Rob a receiver and safety, and the most famous Micallef of them all was a receiver and defensive back.

Courtesy: Tim Micallef

“(The football program) was gone for about a decade and it was the same story as a lot of different schools around Canada: the interest dried up with the money and the worry about all of the injuries that go with it kind of catapulted on top of each other and it went away. Now I think we have a lot more information about what you’re walking into when you walk into football,” Micallef said.

“Everything that I’ve learned, I learned from sports: how to get knocked down and get back up, the work ethic involved. Everything that I do every day goes back to my experience with my family, with my dad, with my brothers, and at Senator O’Connor. The amount of people who out of the goodness of their hearts understanding how teachers and coaches impacted their lives, reached out with money.”

Around $30,000 was raised, which was enough to restart the program. However, players had to pay to play to cover additional costs with fundraising and donation efforts ongoing. 32 brand new certified helmets were purchased, while Football Toronto used money donated by the Toronto Argonauts to buy 18 additional helmets. Another 15 were borrowed from the Scarborough Thunder.

Henoc Muamba, the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian of the 109th Grey Cup, came to inspire the team as well.

Courtesy: Tim Micallef

“It’s so amazing that people just reached out and said, ‘You know what? That sounds like something that I believe in and I should do it,'” Micallef said.

“There is a zero percent chance that we would have taken the field this year without Tim’s passion and social media reach,” Carrabs said. “My original donation letter found a very successful philanthropist from Western Canada who had no affiliation with Senator O’Connor besides knowing Tim.”

There was at least one Micallef brother playing football at OCS every year from 1980 through the 1993 season, which is why the Blues program is so close to his heart. He heard from a bunch of former players who wanted to give back and reenergize the football team.

“One of the stories that was passed on to me, I won’t name any names, but there was a kid who got into trouble. One of the teachers said to me, ‘That’s kind of the kid that we would have gotten in the football program.’ The kid that wants to blow off some steam, the kid that wants to stay out of trouble and we no longer have that outlet for them,” Micallef said.

“That was what clicked in my mind to try and get it back. I know for a fact that there were people that I knew that were saved by football. For me personally, my story is that I love football. Injuries and athletic ability ended my career. I didn’t get through university because I didn’t have the structure of football to go with it.”

Among the school’s notable football alumni, defensive end Kojo Millington was an OUA all-star at Wilfrid Laurier University and played in the East-West Shrine Bowl with Tom Brady in 2000. Receiver Andrew Noel was a conference all-star at Acadia University and selected ninth overall during the 2003 CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes. Johnny Aprile starred at Queen’s University and was taken in the third round during the 2012 CFL Draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There have been many Canadian university athletes developed at Senator O’Connor through the years, but most importantly life lessons taught to all the players who suited up for the Blues.

“I think it’s so hugely important for the growth of kids to have some sort of physical activity, particularly young men to have an outlet for the frustrations that can come along with being a young man in this society,” Micallef said.

“Nothing would please me more than to hear that a story like this inspired other alumni to help the kids at their school. No matter if it’s sports or arts or anything else — I feel like we owe to the next generations.”

Courtesy: Senator O’Connor
Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.