There’s no getting around it: last season was a tough one for SFU football. The team suffered a winless season, their worst showing in the NCAA era. However, senior running back Ante Litre is determined to help lead the Clan to victories this season.
“I want to lead the team to a few victories,” said Litre, who is a health sciences major. “Whatever that role entails, I’m ready to take it, [whether] that’s making a few special teams, tackles, or whatever the case is. I love winning, and that’s the most important thing when you’re playing football. Applying yourself to the team is what you gotta do.
“If you set team objectives, [and] you have all 11 guys on the field working towards the same objective, there’s nothing more important,” he continued. “Individual statistics will follow, but I try not to think about that. It’s always team first.”
Litre started playing football a year before high school, following the influence of his older brother.
“My dad came to Canada from Croatia when he was 28, my mom came here when she was three. We didn’t have any idea about football, we never watched it in the house growing up. So when my brother got into Grade 8, there was a letter sent out to all the newcomers to the school talking about the football team and how we would love to have your sons come out.
“From then on, that’s when the whole addiction to football in the family started. We watched my brother play that first year and [said] wow, this is an incredible sport.”
Litre then joined SFU out of high school in 2012, and needless to say, there have been some changes.
“My first year when I came to SFU in 2012, I came in a recruiting class that was almost 45 people-plus. The roster size was about 120. We had so many guys on the team that there were guys splitting lockers. Now, I got two lockers. [Laughs]
“When that roster size was that big, that made practices different. Because now all of a sudden everyone redshirting was on a scout team, and they were [playing against] the starting offence, so you had those reps against the first team for a full year. That’s an advantage you get with a 100-plus roster. But on the flip side, you get less coaching. Now, having this better number, I think we’re finding a happy medium.”
Moving into his senior season, Litre’s team has some positives. A big one is the return of head coach Kelly Bates and his coaching staff, the first time in a long time that the players have had coaching continuity heading into a season.
“Having a set of coaches who [know their] players, we’re able to hit this season running as opposed to try and figure out who everyone is,” said Litre. “That was the biggest thing. A lot of times when a new coaching staff came in, a lot of guys looked at it as a fresh start.
“I love winning, and that’s the most important thing when you’re playing football.”
“Now, the coach has seen everybody, he knows who everybody is, and we’re able to plan for certain guys. The coaches have done a good job taking care of their guys, and it’s been going good.”
The other is that Litre has had time to adjust to the running back position. Formerly the fullback for the Clan, Litre was put into the position last season after injury, and quickly became a revelation; so much so that he will likely be the starting running back this year. It’s a position he didn’t think he would find himself in when he was first recruited to SFU.
“When I first came in, I thought I was going to be a linebacker for the next five years. In the spring camp, I was getting some first team reps at linebacker. And then halfway through camp, the head coach kind of caught me off guard, he comes up to me and says we have a need at fullback. And I just wanted to be on the field, whether it was special teams or whatever I could do for the team to help move it forward. So I said I would move to fullback if that’s what the team needed.”
After his SFU career is done, Litre’s dream is to go play professional football or to become an athletics director at a university. If he ends up being drafted, he’ll be following in the footsteps of someone he went to SFU with: Michael Couture.
“We’re all so proud of him for everything he’s accomplished, along with every other CFL alumni that’s been through here,” he said. “A lot of times our CFL alumni come back and they train with us in the weight room and stuff. [. . .] Having that in your face all the time, it’s definitely a goal you want to strive towards.”
For someone whose passion and dedication to the game is very evident, the team’s disappointing last season was for Litre the “most heartbreaking thing I’ve done.” However, Litre and the team are determined that it will push them towards success.
“As a group, we’ve all been through so much with the three head coaches, there’s nothing more we wanted to do than win. And we came short so many times, it took such an emotional toll on everyone. It left a scar on us through all of the off season. Watching an old game or something, [you’d] get super frustrated. All you want to do is get that first win.”
As the season enters its early stages, Litre and SFU will be looking to put the past behind them.
FUN FACT: Go-to touchdown celebration?
“I usually look for Felix [Gacusana] or Evan Telford, they’re my [offensive] linemen. They’ll come give me a big bear hug. I’m not a dancer, I got no dances at all.”