Mark McConkey is preparing for his latest debut with the University of Regina Rams.
McConkey is to patrol the sideline in his first regular-season game as the Rams’ interim head coach on Saturday in Winnipeg against the University of Manitoba Bisons.
The Bisons also provided the opposition on Aug. 30, 2008, when McConkey was impressive in his first game as a university player. He caught five passes for 61 yards as the host Bisons won 25-12.
McConkey went on to excel with the Rams, earning Canada West all-star honours in 2011. Over five seasons, he caught 180 passes for 1,991 yards — totals that place him second and fifth, respectively, in school history.
McConkey returned to the program in 2015, when he was named the Rams’ offensive co-ordinator, quarterbacks coach and academic coach. He spent four seasons in those roles before being named the interim head coach in February of 2020, following the sudden resignation of Steve Bryce .
All these months later, McConkey remains the interim head coach — and is still waiting for his first real game, which is to begin shortly. A global pandemic, which was declared a month after he was promoted from an assistant’s role, resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 season.
“It has been a long wait for myself and a long wait for all the players and coaches,” McConkey said before the Rams’ final practice of the week. “The year off was something else, for sure, but we’re just excited.
“You can tell it’s the regular-season week in practices. The focus is up, the intensity is up, and guys are really dialling in on our game plans in all three phases.
“We’re just excited for Saturday. It can’t come soon enough.”
Although McConkey’s focus is on the team, he is appreciative of a looming personal milestone.
“I’m excited, for sure,” he said. “Obviously, the nerves are going a little bit.
“I just want to make sure that I’m giving our team the best chance to win. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about — letting our players have some success on Saturday.
“I think we’ve done the work in the off-season and with the COVID. The players have. The coaches have. We’ve got a good game plan going in on all three sides of the ball. We’re just excited and ready to roll.”
Role models such as former Rams head coach Frank McCrystal and offensive co-ordinator Bernie Schmidt are on McConkey’s mind as he prepares to coach the team for which he once played.
“It’s pretty surreal, for sure,” he said. “I owe this program so much.
“Guys like Frank McCrystal and Bernie Schmidt did so much for me. Ultimately, I just want to be half the coach those guys were. Those guys were great life mentors of mine and of many people throughout their time coaching in junior and in university.
“I’ve got some great guys to look up to and that’s ultimately what I want — to be a Frank McCrystal and to be a Bernie Schmidt and to impact so many lives in the long run.”
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