Chris Van Zeyl is a man that most Hamiltonians, and McMaster University alumni should know well. As he enters his 14th season in the CFL, after playing 4 years with the McMaster Marauders – we had a chance to catch up with one of the good guys of professional sport as he took a chance to reflect on life and football in a brief 1-on-1 chat. Here is how that conversation went…
Hamilton Tiger-Cat #54 Chriz Van Zeyl [Photo taken by Nathan Denette & provided by the Canadian Press]
Life in Hamilton
Before we ask any questions about football or your career outside of the game how are you and your family during these unprecedented times?
“We are all very happy and healthy. I find myself very fortunate to be working as a full-time dad for the first time in my career. My wife, son and I were greeted with a new family member 4 months ago and that has become it’s own ‘Training Camp’ in a tedious, demanding way.” Chris went on to say, “You know, I’ll never wish I worked more [when I’m older], but I will miss these precious moments when your child is experiencing everything for the first time… all the time.”
Outside of football, Hamilton and its’ community have become home to you, haven’t they?
“I mean, I’m immersed in Hamilton. I’ve been here since my 5 years at McMaster University. Even when I was playing in Toronto – we were living in this community… That’s why I try not to turn down any opportunities to reconnect with the community.”
One example of Chris reconnecting with the community of Hamilton was his Sleepless in Our Cities initiative where he slept in his car overnight to help raise funds for United Way, helping those less fortunate and those who were hit especially hard during the pandemic.
“For me, I have the luxury of family and a home – and knowing that there are those close to us that don’t… I wanted to take myself out of my personal comforts for a good cause and help support those in the community that have always supported me.”
Going back to your days of university football, how did your transition from your years as a McMaster Marauder translate into your prolific professional career?
“Most won’t remember that I was a defensive lineman in University. Being a D-lineman, I knew I had to be flexible when and if I got the CFL. Sure enough, in my 2nd year I was asked to switch to offensive line by Marc Trestman [Montreal Alouettes at the time] – and it altered my trajectory. It was a year and a half of changing myself as an athlete which… isn’t short, but it felt way, way longer in the midst of it."
“There’s just so much support in the CFL – it’s like a brotherhood.”
"I had guys around me like Brian Ramsay, Rob Murphy and Jeff Keeping helping me along the way – I wouldn’t be here today without them.”
What's Next for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats?
Now that we're talking CFL football how are you feeling about that relatively stable Hamilton Tiger-Cats roster from two years ago coming into this new and potentially different season?
“I can tell you that in our locker room – that group of guys, coaches – that community, within that team there is something special. I have been a part of championship teams and this roster has that feeling. As far as keeping the core together and bringing in assets – they know what they have is good. Our culture is about helping guys along rather than breaking someone down to build them up again. I had that in 2012 and 2017 [years Chris won the Grey Cup], where everyone was focused on the same goal. It’s hard to find, and we have it.”
Thank you to Chris Van Zeyl for taking the time to catch up with us. Make sure to keep an eye out for #54 when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats take the field!