Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON – They’ve broken the same ground, sowed the same seeds, harvested the same crop.
Every tick on Josh Samuel’s growth chart matches that of MacEwan’s men’s soccer program.
In 2014, Samuel took his largest step, going from Strathcona High School in Edmonton to MacEwan University and joining the Griffins men’s soccer team, which was making a giant leap of its own, entering Canada West.
“It was a fresh new team,” the Edmonton native says. “They made the big jump from the (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) to (Canada West), so I was really excited about jumping on the team, trying to push it forward into a better league.”
More than four seasons on, it’s been a rewarding experience for Samuel, who has played no small role in the growth of Griffins soccer.
“I think the program has evolved greatly from the first year … our team definitely has gotten so much better from that first year to now,” says Samuel, citing how the program goes about everything from practice to home matches. “All that kind of stuff has made our program better and made us more attractive to our players.
Meanwhile, MacEwan has provided the environment for Samuel’s own personal evolution.
“As a teammate, I definitely have gone towards a leadership role, just through experience,” he says. “(For) young guys coming in, I see the difference in me letting them know how the league is, and stuff that doesn’t even have to do with the soccer aspect of it.”
A five-foot-nine midfielder, Samuel has long led by example. During the pre-season of his second year in 2015, he sprained his MCL, but missed just a few weeks before returning to start MacEwan’s final five matches. Samuel didn’t match his pre-injury form, but rather incredibly exceeded it, and the student-athlete was named the Griffins’ Most Improved Player that season.
“Your coaches and your fellow players around the field are relying on you to play your best and perform and you have to do your best job,” he says.
Name a milestone moment for MacEwan in Canada West, and Samuel was part of it. He fondly recalls being on the pitch at Mount Royal on Sept. 7. 2014, when Youssef Naboulsi scored the team’s first Canada West goal, and a few weeks later he played the full 90 minutes in back-to-back draws against perennial powerhouse Alberta.
“I think that was a turning point where people thought, you know, maybe this team is a force to be reckoned with,” he says of those matches with the Golden Bears, both which ended 1-1.
“Having games like that builds momentum. When you have a performance like that, you just want to keep on playing. you have more belief in a team, that, ‘You know what, we can beat any team.’ You just got to put in the work.”
Samuel has never been afraid of breaking a sweat. The Science major is MacEwan’s all-time leader for minutes played and on pace to become the first Griffins player to surpass 4,000 in Canada West competition.
When the season ends, Samuel’s path will diverge from MacEwan. But first he wants to join the Griffins in going where neither the player nor the program has gone before: the Canada West playoffs.
“I really hope once I leave our program it will be one of the best teams in (Canada West),” he says.
“And I hope I have gained the knowledge to give the younger guys what they need to keep the culture of MacEwan still there when I’m not there.”
The #SeniorSpotlight series features stories of Canada West student-athletes who are in their final season of university competition, as they work to cap off their university athletic careers, and prepare for what’s next personally and professionally.