Nova Scotia

An Acadia University football player's unusual journey to stardom

He was severely burned in an accident at his home in the Bahamas when he was six years old and had never worn football equipment before arriving in the Maritimes for college. Now, Eugene McMinns is scoring touchdowns.

Eugene McMinns had no tackle football experience before coming from the Bahamas to college in Canada

Eugene McMinns has helped Acadia win four straight games to clinch first place in the AUS standings. (Peter Oleskevich)

The athletic odyssey that's taken Eugene McMinns 2,500 kilometres from his home in the Bahamas to football stardom in Nova Scotia would hardly have seemed possible when he was six years old.

That's when he suffered severe burns to both his legs while pouring gasoline on a brush fire intended to keep the mosquitoes away at his home in Nassau, the capital of the Caribbean country.

"I poured a little bit too much out and I spilled it on myself and I caught on fire," said McMinns. "I got third-degree burns from my ankles all the way up to my quadriceps."

The accident left him with both physical and mental scars. Despite living in such a hot country, McMinns wouldn't wear shorts for nearly 10 years because he didn't want other children to see his legs.

It's a far cry from where the 24-year-old is today. He's now an explosive kick returner and wide receiver for Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., a football team that has won four straight games to clinch first place in the Atlantic University Sport standings.

McMinns only played flag football in the Bahamas. (Peter Oleskevich)

McMinns's university sports career is even more remarkable in that before arriving in Canada for college, he had only ever played flag football in Nassau and had never before strapped on equipment.

He had, however, become a sprinting star and at 19 was the Bahamian high school champion in decathlon, a gruelling sport where athletes compete in 10 track and field events.

Around the time, Prince Edward Island's Holland College was recruiting in the Caribbean and McMinns decided to head to Charlottetown for his post-secondary education.

Having always followed American football, it was his chance to suit up for a tackle football team. He played two seasons for the Hurricanes when they won back-to-back Atlantic Football League titles.

While attending Holland College he had another brush with fire, one with a much happier result. On July 23, 2014, McMinns noticed thick black smoke pouring out of a house in Charlottetown.

"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, honestly," he said. "I kicked the door in and I military crawled on the ground to stay under the smoke and when I got upstairs I found a man on his bed who was coughing up a storm, so I put him on my shoulder and carried him outside."

McMinns in action. (Peter Oleskevich)

From Holland College he was recruited by Acadia.

"His athleticism absolutely just jumped out at us," said Acadia head coach Jeff Cummins, who vividly remembers seeing McMinns for the first time. "It was just evident from the first couple of plays I saw, it was like, 'OK who is that guy?'"

Cummins convinced McMinns to come to Acadia, where he's in his second year of a community development degree.

Last week, he caught a touchdown pass against Saint Mary's and the Axemen clinched top spot and home field advantage for the AUS championship game, which will be held Nov. 11 in Wolfville. He also returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown in a win against St. FX earlier this month.

"It's great to win some games and get some Ws," McMinns said. "We're just riding the train right now."

This season will be McMinns's last in an Axeman uniform because when he turns 25 he will be too old to play under AUS rules. He will stay at the school for another year to complete his degree.

After that he said he's not sure where he'll end up. He isn't ruling out a return to the Bahamas to resume his decathlon career in hopes of making it to the Olympics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across Nova Scotia for 30 years.

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