Lukas Shaver speaks steadily with calm conviction. It’s a voice you want to listen to. It’s a voice which belongs to one of the key leaders in a historically dominant defensive unit from 1997-2000, and now trains members of the Canadian Forces how to fly C130 aircraft. He sums up his model of success with clarity. “Your level of dedication in preparation leads to confidence and that confidence is infectious to others.”
It was confidence that initially drew the eldest Shaver brother to uOttawa and the football program under Larry Ring in 1997 when the Gee-Gees were two-time defending Dunsmore Cup champions. “The whole program had a cocky confidence,” he says. Defensive coordinator Mike White took the lead in Shaver’s recruitment and development. “He really opened my eyes to how I could contribute,” says Shaver.
Shaver began playing football while living in Germany. The military was always part of Lukas and his brothers’ lives: he is the third generation of military pilots. While that career would come later, life on the base and with his international school team mates in Germany was where competitive sports began. When the family moved back to Ottawa for Lukas’ grade eleven year, he was ready for the transition to football - Canadian style.
“He was big, fast and smart,” says his brother Mike, who teamed up with Lukas on the Gloucester Dukes and remembers the subtle signs of leadership. “He was always the best dressed on the field to go along with his superior talents and most other players would try and emulate his style.”
The Gee-Gees reached the Vanier Cup in 1997, Shaver’s rookie season which saw him sidelined with illness and nagging injuries among a veteran-laden group. Still, White saw his potential and named Shaver a defensive captain for 1998. “I’m not really a rah-rah speech guy, but that meant I had to do something. I lead by example and dedicated myself to being better.”
“We had several defensive captains, but Luke was definitely the most looked to,” says Mike who joined Luke on the Gee-Gees as a fullback in 1998. “Luke lead more than anything else with his play striking fear into any opponents tasked with running through his area of the field. Those defences worked very hard, were very effective and the boys seemed to have a great time playing together.” Mark Pretzlaff, Frantz Jacques, and Pierre Landry joined Shaver on the defensive All-Canadian teams during his career.
After the pain of losing the Vanier in 1997, the Gee-Gees returned with strong squads in 1998 (6-2) and 1999 (8-0). In 1999, Ottawa was halted at the Dunsmore Cup by Laval. “They skunked us,” says Lukas of the 38-6 final. “It was a blowout and the guys used it as motivation to fuel our preparation for the following season."
In 2000, Shaver had a special feeling from the beginning. “It was a core nucleus of guys who had been together and football was all we did. We built those bonds and there were no cliques – it was one team, everyone bought in and was dedicated to one common goal - the Vanier Cup.”
Again, Laval looms large in the memory. After opening the 2000 season with 35-1 and 24-0 victories, the Rouge et Or took a 14-9 win on a wet and cold day at Lansdowne. “That day it felt like we couldn’t get anything going, but nobody panicked. We continued to follow the plan, and focused on the final goal.”
“The level of detail, thought, and football IQ that went into the weekly plan was a testament to the dedication of the coaching staff. At the time we probably took that for granted,” Lukas continues. “Marcel was a great coach with a great approach, he was a players’ coach and had everyone organized.”
For Shaver, the Vanier Cup game seemed to go by in a flash as the Gee-Gees fended off the Regina Rams 42-39 in the highest scoring national championship in history. “What does stand out to me was my gut feeling – the outcome was always certain in my mind.”
He also remembers the resiliency of the Ottawa offence led by quarterback Phil Cote. “We’re out there playing on the biggest stage there was, and everybody on offence had their moment in the spotlight – my brother played ridiculous – I was blown away by how consistently successful the offence was during the game.”
“It was a second half of pure joy playing the game thinking that nothing could stop you from winning the championship,” echoes Mike, who scored a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter to make it 21-7 and added 42 yards rushing Lukas is credited with two tackles in the Vanier. “It wasn't until I watched the video that I realized how close Regina made the game in the second half.”
Once the final whistle went, Shaver was up on the stage to receive the Vanier Cup and championship banner. “I just have flashes of the ceremony and the celebrations, it was the ideal way to finish off university. It was the pinnacle of my football career.”
Football didn’t end there for Lukas as the Calgary Stampeders drafted him in 2001 following a strong showing at the CFL combine. He landed in Winnipeg as a special teams player in 2001 and 2002. In 2002, Mike was his team mate once more.
“To see Mike’s success was almost better than my own. Watching Lee play later, following the season on the internet, was a totally different experience. It was great to be able to live it vicariously through him.” Lee was a defensive back with the Garnet and Grey from 2005-2010 and wore jersey number three; Lukas was number one, Mike wore two.
“When I went to Ottawa, I went as an un-recruited walk on,” says Mike. “Nobody except for Carleton asked if I wanted to play football, but I wanted to go to uOttawa because that's where Luke went. I honestly wouldn't have even thought about playing university football if Luke hadn't done it first. After that, I think it just became a family tradition to play football for Ottawa.”
After the 2002 CFL season, Lukas made the choice to move on from football and ended up continuing another family tradition. “There was no master plan,” he says of his decision to apply to join the Canadian Forces. Having never flown before, Lukas “started fresh” and became a pilot.
“Canada has been relatively active during my military career - I’ve had great opportunities all over the world,” says Captain Shaver, who has 5000 hrs flying the C130 and A310. In 2010 he received a NATO medal for service on NATO Operation Unified Protector in Libya.
“I think his service to our country is really great. He can look back and see that he has helped so many people to have a better life because of the jobs he did like flying refugees in from Syria,” says Mike, who is a firefighter. “One my favourite memories of him will be his announcing the start of the Blue Bombers game for the military day celebration from the cockpit of his Hercules during a flyover of the stadium. How many people get to play for a team and then do a fly-by over his stadium?”
For someone who has experienced so much, Lukas does not dwell on details from the past. The calm conviction is there, though.
“I remember the ups and downs – the big picture season by season. I think my induction, just like any individual accolades I received, were a reflection of the team. On that team there was buy-in across the board, we were successful because of the selflessness of each player - everyone was 100 percent committed to the team.”
“Four years is such a small window, at the time you can’t comprehend that and it goes by in a blink. Those were the glory days, my time as a Gee-Gee was the most enjoyable of my football career.”