McMaster Marauders head coach Stefan Ptaszek holds a bachelor of education degree from the University of Toronto and a master of business administration from the University of British Columbia.
Deep down, the 41-year-old native of Burlington, Ont., has always had a desire to work with youth – and the game of football has been the best outlet for him to achieve his goal.
“My passion isn’t necessarily for coaching football, it’s for working with young people, focused and motivated young people,” Ptaszek said Wednesday. “That’s why I went to teachers’ college, that’s why I’m here.
“Coaching is just a great way to have kids that are engaged. They’re buying what you’re selling. There’s no marketing with football players. They want to be there and they want to get better.”
He obviously has chosen wisely. On Wednesday night, Ptaszek was honoured with the Frank Tindall Trophy as the Canadian Interuniversity Sport football coach of the year during an awards banquet at Ontario Place.
Ptaszek has led the Hamilton institution to a perfect (11-0) season and to the brink of its second consecutive national championship.
On Friday, the top-seeded Marauders will play No. 2-ranked Laval Rouge et Or (11-1) in the Vanier Cup at Rogers Centre – a rematch of a classic encounter from a year ago, in which the Marauders walked off with a victory in double overtime.
Also honoured Wednesday by the CIS was Guelph Gryphons defensive back Zach Androschuk, who received the Russ Jackson Award, recognizing excellence in football, academics and citizenship.
The all-Canadian all-star team was also unveiled, and the Marauders dominated the overall tally with nine selections (including six on the first team, led by quarterback Kyle Quinlan). Laval tallied three first-team selections, two on defence, including linebacker Frédéric Plesius.
In his seventh campaign as the Marauders coach, Ptaszek guided McMaster to the program’s first 8-0 regular season since 2003. The team has won a CIS record 21 consecutive games.
Ptaszek began his CIS journey as a star receiver at Wilfrid Laurier University (1990-94), where he was a three-time all-Canadian and earned his first of three Vanier Cup rings in 1991.
He would go on to play in the CFL for four years with the B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, before embarking on a coaching career.
Ptaszek was hired as the offensive co-ordinator at Laurier in 2003, when Gary Jeffries took over the program, and together they shared a Vanier Cup victory in 2005.
Ptaszek first got to know Jeffries during his final playing year in 1994, when Jeffries was Laurier’s defensive co-ordinator. The two remain close and Jeffries is godfather of Ptaszek’s youngest of three children (Stefan, 2).
“First of all, he’s a great person and that’s a heck of a start,” Jeffries said of Ptaszek. “He cares a great deal about his young men and you’re seeing the returns on the football field.
“The kids love him, they’ll do anything for him. And on top of him he’s an exceptional football coach.”
Ptaszek said he tries to embody family values above all else as a football coach – and, at times, that can be trying.
“‘Marauder football family’ is how we describe ourselves best and that family atmosphere and that long-term commitment [gets extended] to everybody that comes through that door,” Ptaszek said. “I think that’s how you create long-term success.
“You develop the human beings and focus on that, and the wins will be there.”
One of Ptaszek’s greatest tests came early last season, when Quinlan was facing criminal charges stemming from an altercation at a campus bar. Quinlan was suspended for three games by the university, but Ptaszek stood by the young man as the legal matter wound its way through the courts.
Ptaszek provided a character reference for Quinlan, describing him as “one of the finest young men I have had the privilege of working with.”
In February, Quinlan pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance and handed a one-year conditional sentence.
“I think that was one of the hardest things for him,” Ptaszek said. “He made a mistake that probably a lot of university students make in their growing up.”