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by Rene Lalonde

The University of Regina Rams have had their challenges on the field this season, but that pales in comparison to what the team has had to deal with away from the gridiron.
Late Friday night on Sept. 11, Following the Rams 10-9 loss to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon, defensive lineman Spenser Borlase was killed in a two-vehicle collision. 

The collision occurred approximately 30 km from Prince Albert on Highway 11, near the village of MacDowall. According to reports, Borlase’s vehicle drifted across the centre line into on-coming traffic, colliding head-on with a south-bound van. Connie Sutherland, driver of the van, was also killed.

Photo: Rams defensive coordinator Paul Dawson holds a helmet with the number 61 decal in honour of Spenser Borlase.

Rams defensive coordinator Paul Dawson says that he’s dealt with student death before and that although death is hard on everyone, it’s hardest on the 18 to 23-year-old players. “They’ve maybe lost a grandparent but not many of them have gone through the shock and pain of dealing with something like this … an 18-year-old friend and teammate.”

Mourning the loss of a member of the club took its toll on the Rams, especially the following week. “A lot of emotional ups and downs that next week … everybody was on different grieving levels,” said Rams centre Brenden Bennett.

Before their Sept. 18 game against the Calgary Dinos, the Rams honoured the memory of Borlase and Sutherland, holding a moment of silence. On the field, however, the Rams were routed 41-15 that evening. “I think we struggle a lot because of the lack of focus and we were playing a very good team that week ... I’m not sure if even we – the coaches – were ready to play that game,” said Dawson.

The Rams turned things around the next weekend, upending the University of British Columbia 28-17. “I’m sure Spenser would have wanted everyone to keep playing … You can’t stop living, you have to keep going and we’re working at it,” said Dawson.

But that’s not to understate the loss of Borlase. Although he was being red-shirted this season, the future was bright for the rookie. With starter Bjorn Person graduating this year, there would have been a spot open in the middle of the defensive line next season. “He (Borlase) would have had a leg up on anybody new coming in because of his redshirt year and would have had a good chance of being a starter for five straight years,” said Dawson, his voice trailing off.

In memory of Borlase, the Rams have put a decal of his number, 61, on all helmets, and his locker remains filled with his gear. Wide receiver Mark McConkey said the team decided to devote the locker to their fallen teammate. “Its called Locker-for-Life. There’ll be a plaque put on his stall and everyone’s pitching in money – players, coaches, directors, trainers – everyone.”

Lastly, McConkey and Bennett said the team is dedicating the season to Borlase, with the intention of winning the Vanier Cup.