Lander changing roles for Gaiters 

ex-Receiver makes switch to linebacker

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - LANDER THE TACKLER Dustin Lander of Bishop's University got a crash course in defence in 2015.
  • Photo submitted
  • LANDER THE TACKLER Dustin Lander of Bishop's University got a crash course in defence in 2015.

Dustin Lander ended up with the Bishop's University Gaiters by scoring touchdowns for the Pemberton Grizzlies.

But he'll make his mark with the team by preventing them.

With a glut of talent at receiver blocking his path to the field, the 6-3, 218 lb. sophomore received an offer to help him get into Canadian Interuniversity Sport action more quickly.

At the squad's spring camp to cap Lander's red-shirt season, where he practiced but didn't play, the coaching staff expressed an interest in moving him to linebacker. For this season, Lander suited up for the final two games of the season, a 52-3 loss to Montreal and a 42-29 loss to cross-town rival Sherbrooke, as part of the special teams unit.

"I got into two games this year, got my first tackle on special teams, and it was a really, really good experience," he said.

"I'm pretty confident that next year, I'll get a lot more reps at my position at outside linebacker."

As a late bloomer in the game, Lander explained he felt malleable in the sense that he didn't feel overly attached to his offensive position. As well, having knowledge from one side of the ball would certainly come in handy on the other.

"Being the raw athlete I came in as — I only started playing football in Grade 11 — I'm really not too developed in any specific area," he said. "Making the transition hasn't been too bad. I feel a lot more comfortable playing defence this year and reacting to the offence, reading the offence.

"It's a new perspective. You know what the offence is reading in terms of coverage and you can sometimes jump the gun on certain routes just the way the receivers are responding and reacting to us."

Lander had to develop some new skills, though, and appreciated having time in the offseason to work hard to fully grasp his responsibilities as a linebacker.

"I did spend the whole offseason training for linebacker because I did make the switch in the spring camp," he said. "That was really my first time learning how to move backwards instead of moving forwards all the time. (It was) really just learning how to move properly on the field. I had a trainer this summer that helped me greatly with that, so just being able to move and read and react was a big part of my success. You've got to be able to move fast both ways."

Gaiters head coach Kevin Mackey said he's thrilled with how Lander has picked up his new assignments so far and foresees Lander becoming a stalwart on the Bishop's defence with four more years of eligibility.

"He's a physical specimen. He's worked so hard and he's got good speed. He's more built like a linebacker rather than a receiver," he said. "He had the opportunity to play special teams the last two games and he did really well."

Mackey noted Lander's immediate future has him more playing special teams than slotting in defence, but if his arc of progression continues its upswing, he's open to being surprised.

"We're penciling him in for a lot more special teams," he said. "We wanted to get him a little more game experience this year and he responded really well.

"Defensively, he's got a lot to learn, but he's progressed so much since last spring to this year's training camp. He's just gotten better and better."

Lander hopes his rise coincides with a rebound for the program as well, as he is coming up in a rebuilding time in the Gaiters' system as the club has posted 1-7 records the last two seasons after finishing 6-2 in 2013.

"We definitely struggled with the offence this year again. Things just weren't seeming to click until, really, the last game of the season. It was probably our best game of the season, just last Saturday (Oct. 31 against Sherbrooke)," he said. "Our offence really started to click and we were moving up and down the field very well. We competed very well for the Mayor's Cup and we almost had them. We put up a good fight.

"It gives us high hopes for next year after seeing what our team can be and seeing the potential was really very positive.

"Everyone was finally having such a great time on the sidelines. Previously, most of the games were blowouts, so that wasn't too fun."



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