Cummins influencing young men’s lives as his coaches did for him
© Jason Malloy
Jeff Cummins won the Frank Tindall trophy as the Canadian Interuniversity Sport football’s top coach this season. Cummins cares about the student-athletes who wear the Axemen jersey. “It means a great deal to me to see my kids graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives and be successful,” he said.
By Jason Malloy
Jeff Cummins always thought he’d ended up coaching once his playing days were done, he just didn’t think it would be football.
“Quite honestly, I thought I was going to be a basketball coach,” he said. “Coaching football really wasn’t something that interested me at the time.”
The California native grew up playing football, basketball and baseball, but his true love was hoops.
He became an all-American defensive lineman in junior college and went on to play for the University of Oregon. After bouncing around the National Football League, an opportunity presented itself in the Canadian game.
It was during his time in Ottawa he met his future wife Karen, who was from Falmouth. The couple was staying with her parents planning their wedding in 2001 when an opening with Acadia’s football program caught their attention.
“Nova Scotia really wasn’t on the radar and this opportunity kind of came up,” Cummins said of the assistant coaching/defensive co-ordinator position with Sonny Wolfe.
Cummins applied and was hired for the position he held until 2004 when he took over for Wolfe.
He was once asked who were the three most influential people, outside his immediate family, while he was growing up. He named a pair of basketball coaches and an English teacher.
“Coaching and teaching had a huge influence on who I am and what my life is about, and I thought, if I could give back to people and to kids the way those people did for me, then I am doing something right,” he said.
For Cummins, coaching is more than wins and losses. He is not only the person who comes up with game plans, but often is a sounding board, mentor and confidant for his players as they go through the struggles life can throw at a person.
“At 20 years old, some of the stuff I’ve heard … it breaks your heart. You realize football is just a game,” Cummins said.
His players certainly recognize their coach’s dedication.
Tom Labenski, a captain of this year’s squad, remembers visiting the school as a high school senior.
“Coach was just a really nice person, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t just coming here for football, that I really liked the school and the community,” he recalled.
“If I was going to choose Acadia, I was going to choose it, not just for football, but for all the right reasons.”
Cummins had the opportunity to take over Acadia’s basketball team a few years ago for the second half of the season. While he still loves basketball, it showed him his passion was football.
“I really did enjoy and love the game of football a lot more than I really gave it credit for,” he said.
The Axemen completed one of their best seasons in recent memory this year, winning the Atlantic conference and making the national semifinal game. For his efforts Cummins was named the conference’s coach of the year for the third time and the national winner for the first time.
Cummins was pleased the program was recognized and said he was happy for his supportive family.
“There’s a sacrifice that my wife and my children make that not everybody understands,” he said.
The job comes with a lot of work during the season, but it doesn’t end with the last game of the year. That’s when recruiting season begins. Cummins said the recent honour will help as he and his staff meet with prospective student-athletes to continue building the Axemen program.