James du Manoir, an offensive lineman for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees football team, is grateful for the sports opportunities he had in high school.
Opportunities James is not sure he would’ve had without his family’s move to Cobourg just as he was entering Grade 9. He was born in Edmonton, but grew up in Deep River, Ontario before his mother was hired for a job in Port Hope.
Attending St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Cobourg, du Manoir joined the football team and later joined the Peterborough Wolverines club program as well.
“For a big guy like to be able to move to Cobourg and have the opportunity to play football in high school, and as well I played for the Wolverines in Peterborough, just the exposure from those two programs was really what allowed me to be able to go to university and play at the university level,” James says.
“Some of the relationships I’ve gained through football are some of the most important relationships in my life.”
Teammates played a big role in his high school experience of course, but so did his coaches, starting with football head coach Jacques Maheux.
“I actually developed a really good relationship with him off the field, too,” James says. “He was a support for me going through high school. It wasn’t just a football coach, it was someone I could go to his class and talk to him anytime of the day. He was an amazing guy in high school.
“Chris Sebben was an amazing coach,” James added. “All these guys were just able to support you through high school. It wasn’t just a thing on the football field, but outside of the classroom, they were there for support.
“Ray Heffernan was a huge inspiration. We were there at six in the morning in the hallways, running the hallways. He was pushing us to get better every single week. Without those guys, I don’t know where I’d be right now, but they definitely helped me improve throughout my journey.”
They were there when he signed his commitment to Queen’s University to play for the Golden Gaels. So was Rob Majdell, who was the St. Mary principal at the time while also being involved with the football program.
“He also had a huge impact on my football career so far,” James says. “All these guys were the ones who pushed me to go to the next level. In high school I was really unsure what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if football at the next level was going to be something for me or not, but the way these guys pushed me and showed me that I had a lot of potential to play at this level…they had a huge impact on my career.”
James also played rugby at St. Mary, which he considers another great experience.
“Being able to play on the rugby team for Greg Conway was a great opportunity,” he remarked, mentioning the thrill of going on tours to England for the Rugby World Cup and New York City two straight years. “Just to be able to have those experiences and opportunities like that, I’m really blessed.”
Playing for the Peterborough Wolverines gave him extra exposure to university football teams. He was surprised when they started reaching out. The first time that happened was a memorable experience.
James had played a game in Orillia and was walking back to the car with his father, Peter, when they were approached by former CFL player and coach Greg Marshall, who was the defensive coordinator at Queen’s.
“I didn’t know who he was because I was just a young lad, but my dad who was a big CFL fan growing up knew exactly who Greg Marshall was,” James says. “After that experience, I realized there might be something for me in football at the next level.”
James enjoyed watching the CFL with his dad growing up and even attended a few Grey Cup games. They bonded over their love of football.
It was February 2017 when James signed with Queen’s, but in April he lost his dad to brain cancer. He had been diagnosed the previous June.
“To have him at my signing a couple months before he passed, it was one of the most special moments I could have,” James says. “I look back on that and I’m fortunate for all the opportunities I had with him.”
James ended up playing just one season for the Golden Gaels in Kingston. Still grieving the loss of his father, he returned home to be with his mom and ponder his future.
Ultimately, James chose to transfer to the University of Ottawa where he became a versatile player in 2018 and 2019. He says he weighed about 350 pounds when he got to the Gee-Gees and played guard, but through training got done to about 305 pounds, which was a good weight to play tackle.
“Being a versatile player is very important. If you can play guard, center and tackle, there’s no reason why a coach shouldn’t dress you for a game. The more versatile you are, the more you can help your team out. As well as guard and tackle, I was also playing defensive tackle on goal-line,” James says.
There was no 2020 season, but the Gee-Gees players had virtual meetings and workouts and got into the gym when permitted. Now they are able to resume some outdoor training leading up to the 2021 season.
In May, James was one of 110 U Sports players to receive East-West Bowl recognition. While no game was played, he’s considered a prospect for the 2022 CFL draft. There will be regional and national combines next year in advance of the draft.
“Growing up I would never have even imagined I could be in the position I’m in now. I’m excited for the opportunities. I’m going to continue to grow as a football player and a man. Football is more than just a game. It teaches you a lot about life,” James says.
His goal is to play in the CFL, but his current focus is on the season ahead with Gee-Gees and competing for a Vanier Cup.
His thoughts are with his dad and the football memories they shared.
“I do this for me because I love football and it’s a passion of mine, but a lot of it does stem from my dad,” James says. “Every day I go in the gym, I work hard and a lot of the stuff is for him.”
James du Manoir joined the July 21 episode of the Total Sports Northumberland podcast to talk about his sports background and also joined the conversation with two-time Grey Cup champion and the 2019 CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Chris Van Zeyl of the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
Athletes interested in joining the podcast, or their parents, should fill out the form at Athlete Spotlight – Total Sports Northumberland.