If there were a poster boy for overcoming adversity, it would likely be Acadia receiver/returner Eugene McMinns.
For starters, there was his tragic childhood injury at age four.
McMinns’ mother was making a small bush fire to fend off mosquitoes when the young boy decided to try and help by pouring on more gasoline. Unfortunately, he was jolted by the sudden burst of flames, and was splashed by gas as he fell into the fire. He sustained third degree burns from his foot all the way up to his quadricpes, and nearly had to have his right leg amputated.
McMinns missed two years of school, and wore long pants due to his self-consciousness.
“It was a bit tough for my psyche for a bit,” he reflects.
Despite the setback, McMinns – a native of Nassau, Bahamas – stayed positive. One of the biggest crutches in his life was athletics, which helped boost his self-esteem and also kept him out of trouble.
“There were drugs in my area, there was violence,” he says. “It was quite rough at times, but I didn’t let it affect me at all.”
Under the tutelage of his uncle, McMinns quickly became a track and field star, becoming the national decathlon champion for the Bahamas at the young age of 19. During his teenage years, he also became infatuated with football. The Bahamas didn’t have a tackle football league, so McMinns shone in the flag football league instead.
“When I was back home and went to school, I had a football in my hand all the time,” says McMinns. “I was always talking about football, I was always watching college pump-up tapes from NCAA Division I schools, just wishing I could be one of those guys.”
Despite his football ambitions, doubt slowly crept into McMinns’ mind about the possibilities of getting picked up by an NCAA program, due to his Bahamian residency. His uncle steered him straight though, convincing him that if he had the skills, someone would eventually take notice.
“When he told me that, I started to believe in myself more that I could do this,” he says.
Coming to Canada
McMinns’ dreams nearly became a reality in 2013 when Karl McCartney, a native of the Bahamas and a standout with the Saint Mary’s Huskies, hosted a football combine in his hometown featuring a number of American universities.
“I was excited,” describes McMinns. “I trained like three and a half weeks for this combine, hoping to get picked up by a university and maybe earn a scholarship.”
McMinns’ hard work was acknowledged by Lindenwoods University, an NCAA Division II school in Michigan that was very interested in signing him. It seemed like everything was lining up perfectly for the promising football talent. That is, until he was told he’d have to write the Standardized American Test (SATs) in order to be eligible.
“I didn’t have any experience taking [the SATs] whatsoever, so I was like oh man, it’s kind of a loss,” Eugene recalls.
But all was not lost for the rising star. A little over a week after McCartney’s camp, scouts from PEI’s Holland College – who play out of the four-team Atlantic Football League – came through looking to recruit international students and potential athletes, something that the program had had success doing in the past.
“I didn’t even know that Canada had football like that, honestly,” McMinns says. “It was so close to the States, and everything that gets filtered to us is from the United States, like the NFL.”
McMinns wowed Holland’s scouts with his athletic abilities during an identification camp, and just like that, the wheels were in motion for his first ever trip to Canada.
“[Holland College’s scouts] were pretty impressed with what I could do so they took a chance on me,” he adds.
Valued member of the PEI community
McMinns thrived both inside the classroom and on the field for Holland College. Athletically, he won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014, while also being named the school’s Rookie of the Year in his first season. Internally, he was named Holland College’s first international student-ambassador, and also earned a diploma in sport and leisure management.
Eugene was also a valued member of the community in PEI, becoming a local celebrity of sorts in the summer of 2014 after his friend shared the story of McMinns saving a man’s life from a burning fire.
Eugene’s bike had been stolen earlier in the day, forcing him to walk the route to work that he would typically cycle. Because he was going slower than usual, he noticed a significant amount of thick, black smoke coming out of a nearby house. He proceeded to kick the door in, and military crawling until he found a man asleep in the room upstairs. He then brought him outside, leaving the scene after the fire department arrived.
McMinns didn’t expect to get any recognition, despite the fact that the man would’ve likely died due to excess smoke inhalation if he had been in the building any longer than a couple of minutes.
“I didn’t really expect to get praise for anything. If you see someone in danger, I’m going to just help out if I can,” he says of the incident. “If I didn’t tell my friend, nobody would know and it would’ve been just another day for me.”
McMinns began to crave further football opportunities after learning about U SPORTS toward the end of his second season with Holland College. Much like his journey to PEI, it was a chance occurrence that set the stage for his commitment to Wolfville, Nova Scotia’s Acadia University in 2015.
McMinns’ quarterback had been sending out his own highlight tape to various U SPORTS schools, one of which was Acadia. The coaching staff was super impressed by McMinns, however, who was featured on the tape making multiple plays.
Shortly after making a reel of his own, Eugene was offered a spot on the Acadia roster, and he committed that January.
“I didn’t hesitate. [Acadia] is where I wanted to be,” he says. “It’s a real family atmosphere up here. That’s what really drew me in.”
Now in his second full season with the Axemen, McMinns has become an integral part of an Acadia team that has already clinched an AUS conference playoff birth with a 5-2 record. He has recorded 316 yards receiving and two touchdowns on the year, and has also utilized his speed in kick and punt returns – adding over 800 yards and a touchdown.
Despite his accomplishments, McMinns knows he still has a long way to go as a self-professed student of the game.
“Intellectually, I’ve gotten smarter about the game. It’s a whole new level up here mentally and intelligently,” he says.
“You could be as talented or magical on the field as can be, but if you don’t know what you’re doing on the football field, you’re a liability instead of an asset.