Remembering a gentle giant
by Karena Walter, The Standard
ST. CATHARINES - They had to hide his helmet.
Zackery Duguay loved football so much, he wasn’t about to let epilepsy sideline him. So when he had seizures on the field, he wanted to jump back into the game and help his team the instant they passed.
His father Brian would have to buy some time.
“We’ve just got to hide his helmet, because when he comes out, he’s just going to want to go,” he recalled telling the Hamilton Hurricanes president the first time Zack had a seizure with that team.
“He’s going to want to go, but we’ve got to give him a couple of minutes.”
The talented 21-year-old player, well-known in Niagara football circles, died Friday August 3rd after having a seizure at home in St. Catharines where he lived with his family.
At six-foot-five and 300 pounds, the offensive lineman with the Hamilton Hurricanes was bound for McMaster University’s football team this fall. It was to be a continuation of his love of the sport he discovered at age eight and for which he’d won accolades.
“He loved the camaraderie with his teammates. It was his element. He thought he was equal to everybody,” said Brian Duguay. “He loved being with his fellow players and teammates and just overall going out to competition, everything like that.”
Zack played with the Niagara Regional Minor Football Association, then played for West Park Secondary School for a year. When his best friend died, it was too difficult to stay and he made the switch to Denis Morris High School.
He played and coached with the Niagara Spears and was with the Hamilton Hurricanes for the last two seasons when they won back-to-back Ontario Football Conference championships in 2010 and 2011.
His dad admits bias, but he said Zack would have made a great addition to the McMaster program.
He chose the university because it was close to home and his parents, Brian and Kelly, and he planned to live with his sister Jocelyn closer to the school.
Off the field, Zack was a gentle giant, his father said.
“He was so laid back, he always saw the positive in people,” he said. “Then he’d put on his football helmet and you’d see the biggest change going. He wouldn’t do anything to harm anyone, he would just go out there and help make his team better and do what he can do.”
The Ontario Varsity Football League held a moment of silence before games this weekend for the player. His father said e-mails and condolences from the football community have been appreciated by the family.
“It just shows how much touch he had on people,” he said. “I learned a lot from him. He was so strong and strong-willed and positive in everything he did.”
Zack had his first seizure five days before his 10th birthday and another the day after. When he saw a pediatrician at McMaster for the first time, the first question he asked was: “Am I able play football?” The doctor said “Why not?”
His father said Zack’s eyes just lit up.