With three picks in two games, Josh Cumber has suddenly become the good news story of the in OUA football season.

SPORTS Sep 03, 2019 by Scott Radley The Hamilton Spectator

Josh Cumber reacts after he intercepted an Ottawa Gee Gee pass during OUA football action at Ron Joyce Stadium Sunday. - Scott Gardner,The Hamilton Spectator

He didn't dress for a single game last year. Which he initially says wasn't too frustrating because everyone has to wait their turn to get a chance to play. Nobody's just handed playing time.

But when he's pushed a bit, he admits it wasn't easy at all. He explains he'd go home to Cambridge every weekend to see his dog while McMaster was playing. When you've been a star in high school playing nearly every down and now you're not even in uniform as a backup, it chews at you.

"It's hurts sitting at home and watching the games on OUA TV," Josh Cumber says. "It was tough during the season. I won't lie."

Had fate not intervened, he'd probably still be spending his weekends far from the stadium. Because the sophomore cornerback wasn't going to play this year, either. Not with one of the better guys in the country ahead of him on the depth chart.

But football has a funny way of altering the best-laid plans.

During a pre-season scrimmage with Wilfrid Laurier, fourth-year cornerback Ben Cross clacked knees with another player and hurt his ACL. Suddenly, Cumber wasn't just dressing, he was starting, which would have simply been a roster note had he not hauled in an interception in his first university game.

"I almost threw up," he says. "The adrenalin was going through me."

Still, no big deal. Until he picked off two more on Sunday in a 35-22 win over Ottawa. With three picks in two games, Mr. Afterthought has suddenly become the good news story of the season so far.

Mention his name to Stef Ptaszek and the head coach laughs. Not at him. In the way you chuckle at someone who just makes you smile. He says everyone in the locker-room feels that way about Cumber. His smarts, his work ethic and his toughness have clearly made him a favourite.

That, and the fact he's a Rudy-esque five-foot-nine and 162 pounds. There's only one guy smaller on the team. How can you not cheer for an underdog like that?

If that's not sufficient evidence of his popularity or the enormous celebration among his teammates when he made that first interception in Guelph ask defensive co-ordinator Scott Brady about him. Just like Ptaszek, he laughs when Cumber's brought up.

"He's obviously undersized," Brady says. "But he's a really, really instinctive and physically and mentally tough football player."

Then Brady reveals the real secret to his success. It's not luck, even though he wears No. 13.

McMaster has a web-based film-watching program that's available to all they players. They can log in to watch film of upcoming opponents to study tendencies and review what the coaches have identified as areas to attack. The coaches can then monitor who's doing their studying. So far this year, Cumber has been either first or second in time spent preparing every week.

In fact, his first interception on Sunday was a direct result of what he'd learned from that time online.

"For the second week in a row, he made a pick that he has no business making," Brady says. "And that's because he knows what route is coming."

He wasn't alone. Mac had a ridiculous six interceptions in the game, including a pick-six that clinched the game late in the fourth quarter.

In a game that featured an offence that was struggling for much of the game against a defensive front that was putting all kinds of pressure on quarterback Andreas Dueck, it was the defence that kept the Marauders competitive long enough to figure some things out.

The unit gave up just 319 yards of offence a week after giving up just 273. It did it by playing smart, generally disciplined and very, very physical. In a scary moment in the fourth quarter, Ottawa quarterback Sawyer Buettner had to be taken off the field in an ambulance after a hellacious-but-clean hit. Buettner stayed overnight in hospital for further evaluation but his coach says tests are coming back looking good.

The exclamation point on that defence is this secondary that's soon going to make other quarterbacks leery of throwing deep. If they aren't already. Eight INTs in two wins will do that.

Of course, on Saturday (1 p.m., Ron Joyce Stadium) Mac and its defenders get their biggest test yet when Western rolls into town. The two-time defending Yates Cup champions are again expected to be the class of the province. That said, Cumber had one interception in his first game and two in his second. So ...

"We'll see," he smiles. "I'm not going to make any (predictions) now. No predictions at all. But hopefully I can get three."
[email protected]
905-526-2440 | @radleyatthespec
Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights from 6-8 on 900CHML
[email protected]

905-526-2440 | @radleyatthespec

Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights from 6-8 on 900CHML