Very little prodding is required when Earl Marriott Secondary football coach Mike Mackay-Dunn is asked to describe Dean Meurrens, a Grade 12 student at the South Surrey school and one of the senior team’s captains.
In fact, just the mention of Meurrens’ name sets the longtime coach and teacher off on a run of flattery that is hard to keep up with.
Over the course of just a few minutes, Mackay-Dunn praises the teen’s leadership abilities, his intelligence – both on the field and off – and his speed on the football field, while pointing out that he speaks multiple languages and, aside from a few ‘B’s in subjects like calculus and physics – not exactly basket-weaving 101 – is an ‘A’ student who plans to study computer science in university.
On top of all that, Meurrens, his coach says, is just a good person.
“He’s wonderful to coach and to just be around, he really is,” Mackay-Dunn said.
“When you want to show others an example of what a student-athlete should look like, you show them Dean. I can’t say enough about him.”
In fact, to truly show a visitor the impact that the outside linebacker has on his team’s defence, Mackay-Dunn, sitting in his classroom at EMS, walks over to the white board, grabs a marker and starts diagramming a play.
“If we see something (from the offence) and we change our coverage out there, Dean slides back from linebacker to become a safety,” the coach explains as he scribbles Xs and Os on the board. “He can do that if I call in the adjustment (from the sideline). And if I don’t call it in, he’ll just make the call himself.
“We don’t huddle, and we’re only able to make those adjustments out there (on the fly) because we have Dean. He’s our ‘adjust’ guy.”
The concept on the board isn’t necessarily one that any high-school team would run. The point of the exercise, Mackay-Dunn said, is to show how the team’s playbook has expanded with Meurrens on the field.
The Mariners have another player, Byron Ruvalcaba, who allows such advanced concepts to be implemented, he added.
And it’s not just that Meurrens, who also plays receiver, knows his own position like the back of his hand – he knows what every other player is supposed to do on a given play, too.
The praise isn’t just coach-speak, either. The well-spoken Meurrens – who didn’t start playing football until Grade 9 – admits he has gone out of his way in recent years to learn every nuance of every play – just in case the information ever comes in handy on the field.
“In Grade 9, I knew some of the plays but not all of them. But by Grade 10, I knew every single play. I knew where the offensive line was supposed to step, I knew what the coverages were. I just started pouring all my time into watching football, practising and studying,” he said, adding that he spent at least an hour every night studying his playbook in his first few seasons.
“Sometimes, someone out there might not know the play, but I’d be able to tell them what they need to do.”
The adjustment to a new sport wasn’t without a few hiccups, however. An avid soccer and baseball player, Meurrens quickly discovered that, when it came to trying to make it as a receiver in football, there was one major issue:
“Catching the ball was a real problem,” he laughed.
“I’d never really used my hands for any other sport, so I couldn’t catch anything at first. But I stuck at receiver because I was too small to play anything else – in Grade 9, I was only about five-four, 100 pounds.”
Now about five-foot-seven and 155 pounds, Meurrens, who was born in China and moved to Canada at age four, is still undersized as far as linebackers go, but he’s overcome that obstacle in much the same way he first learned the playbook, or in the way he studies for exams: through hard work.
“Except I have a lot more passion for football than tests,” he said.
When asked where Meurrens stacks up compared to the hundreds of players he’s coached in his decades-long career on the high-school sidelines, Mackay-Dunn again heads over to the white board. But rather than diagram another play, he simply taps his finger on an old photo that is taped to the wall – a photo of former Rick Hansen Secondary’s Jacob Doerksen, who was a two-sport star at the Abbotsford school when Mackay-Dunn coached there.
Doerksen was a dominant receiver on the football field, was just as good on the basketball court, and eventually had a successful hoops career at the Canadian university level before playing pro overseas.
“This guy here, Jacob, his determination, his drive – he was off the charts, and Dean is at that same level,” Mackay-Dunn said. “If you’re going to play the game, and you want to play it well, you have to be invested. You have to be all-in. That’s not just in football – it’s the same in business or just in life. Some guys just get it, and Dean gets it.”
Meurrens hopes to study and play football at one of two places next season – either Simon Fraser University or the University of Toronto, both of which have strong computer-science programs.
He knows making the leap to university football would be a big one, but it’s a challenge he is looking forward to tackling.
“It’s a bit scary, to be honest. It’ll take a lot of hard work, but that’s something I like.”
His coach puts it in even blunter terms.
“He’s got aspirations to go to the next level, and I don’t think anything is going to stop him.”