By: Monty Mosher
How do you best honour the memory of a fallen teammate?
For St. Francis Xavier X-Men running back Jordan Socholotiuk, you play like he played and live by his example.
The X-Men are honoring former AUS most valuable player Ashton Dickson all season. Dickson, whose last AUS season was 2015, was killed in his native Ottawa in late June at the age of 25.
Dickson, the all-time leading rusher in X-Men history, will be the focus of a season-long tribute at St. F.X. It began prior to Friday's home opener, a 37-0 win over Mount Allison, with members of Dickson's family attending.
The X-Men are back on the field this Saturday at home against Acadia. Saint Mary's visits Bishop's in the other game.
A tribute is in the eye of the beholder. The season will mean different things to different St. F.X. team members. Time is fleeting in university sport and many of the current X-Men weren't in Antigonish in Dickson's era.
But Socholotiuk and Dickson had a unique bond. Socholotiuk, now in his fourth year, was the heir to Dickson's position and produced more than 1,000 yards on the ground a year ago, the first AUS rusher in nine years to achieve the milestone.
They shared two seasons in blue and white, with Dickson already an established star for a team on the rise when Socholotiuk arrived from Fort McMurray, Alta. They weren't buddies on the first day. Dickson accepted his role as mentor, but had his limits. He was never a big talker, so rookies frequently had to watch and learn.
"He was a great player to play behind because he really showed you how to work and how to be successful at the U Sports level," Socholotiuk said this week. "I'm very thankful for that.
"One thing I always admired about him was that he could have great success on the field on Saturday, but he'd always come back to practice the next week like nothing happened. I try to carry on that same thing. He was such a humble guy. You could never tell he was St. F.X.'s all-time rushing leader. He just got to work."
Dickson ran for 3,178 career yards as a five-year starter. He had 866 yards in his final season to earn AUS most valuable player, making him a nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy. He landed a spot on the all-Canadian second team.
He ran for 154 yards in the 2015 Loney Bowl, helping the X-Men to a 14-12 win over Mount Allison. It gave the X-Men their first championship since 1996.
His varsity career ended in a loss in the Uteck Bowl against UBC on the following weekend.
Dickson was back home, and about to become a father, at the time of his death.
X-Men head coach Gary Waterman had the duty to inform his players.
"I almost didn't believe it," said Socholotiuk, who ran for 120 yards and a touchdown in the home opener. "It's Ashton Dickson. There must be a mix-up. He's not the type of guy to get into trouble or pick a fight. It didn't seem real. I was so in shock when I heard it. I didn't want to believe it. But I found out it was very real.
"Having that ceremony on Friday was tough. But I'm glad we had it. I think it was very important. I'm happy we can honour him this season. But when I heard the news ... you just wish these things didn't happen. He was such a good person and had so much to offer the world."
Dickson wasn't all that big or fast, but he had a nose for daylight and had the leg drive to take over deep in games. Fiercely competitive, he still had hopes of a pro tryout despite being passed over in the CFL draft.
Socholotiuk, named a 2016 second-team all-Canadian, said he'll honour Dickson by bringing that same integrity to his role.
"I feel like I'm in a special position because that's where he played," he said. "I feel like the way he would want me to honour him would be to give an honest 60 minutes of football just the same way he did. He'd want the grit. He'd want you to grind, to run the ball hard.
"I saw him take so many hits and that man would come to the sideline and not say anything and keep going. So I want to play football the way he would want it to be played."
By their second year together, Dickson and Socholotiuk would talk about football, or life off the field. Dickson offered some praise, predicting a bright future for his understudy.
Socholotiuk lapped up those conversations. When Dickson spoke you paid attention because he might not say it twice.
"He showed me the right way to do things. I can never thank him enough for that. He was such a good person. He never asked to be repaid."
So, the torch gets passed. It's Socholotiuk's turn to be what Dickson was to him. There will be a freshman looking to him, hoping for a quick nod or encouraging word.
"Ashton was a nice guy. It was so much easier being nice and he knew that. He didn't talk much and that's why he impacted me so much because when he spoke I listened. It's important to listen to people who are trying to help you.
"Having Ashton be the guy he was when he was here, I feel the same responsibility to the new guys coming in."