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Early decision to pass on university the right one for Barrie linebacker

Due to pandemic, Barrie North grad Clayton Mrazek will wait a year to begin freshman classes at University of Waterloo, join Warriors football team; 'It was just an unsettling feeling, just going away like that during such an uncertain time'

There's at least one person real happy that Clayton Mrazek decided to defer his first year of university this fall with Canada and the whole world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Yeah, my mom's pretty happy," the Barrie North Collegiate graduate said with a laugh. "I know that much."

While Mrazek is looking forward to the day he can attend the University of Waterloo and take the field with the Warriors football team, he admits maybe another year of mom's dinners isn't so bad after all.

"Going to school and eating Chunky Soup and Mr. Noodles, it was something I wasn't looking forward to," he told BarrieToday.

"Everyday we all sit down for dinner and we all kind of talk about what's going on with COVID-19 and everything like that," the 19-year-old added. "My dad's always reminding us about hand sanitizers and masks, staying away everyone. I think they're really happy that I stayed home. I feel like it would kind of worry them a bit if I was gone."

Like all university students this summer, Mrazek was faced with a tough decision about what to do this fall. In the middle of a pandemic with the end clearly not in sight, he decided in June that taking a year off was the right decision for him.

Mrazek spent a lot of time calling and talking with his Waterloo football coaches and he said they were very understanding throughout the whole process. One coach told him, "I wouldn't give you any advice that I wouldn't give my own kids. Do whatever you think is right."

The advice he received was: "Frankly, if it was my child, I don't know if I'd want them to go."

"I kind of sat back and thought about it a lot and it was just during such an uncertain time," Mrazek said. "Just moving away from home, practices and everything being cancelled, it didn't really sit well with me.

"At the end of the day, I just thought it'd be best for me to stay home, stay safe and just work for the time being. It's just such an uncertain time you never know what's going to come up."

Mrazek admits he came to the decision probably a lot earlier than every other person his age who went off to university.

"I really sat back and thought about it," he said. "I talked to my parents a lot, but I talked to other family members about how they felt about it. I sat down and talked with my coaches. It was just an unsettling feeling, just going away like that during such an uncertain time. I just didn't want to take that risk and I would rather feel safe where I am."

Having received a football scholarship, the linebacker was anxious to get out on the gridiron with his new teammates, but he says when it came to making the decision to take a year off, it was more for another reason.

"It wasn't necessarily the sport at all," said Mrazek, who is going to study recreation and sports management at the school. "It was more the social aspect of it (with) the preventative measures that the university was going to take and it was such an early time when I decided I would defer. Everything was up in the air and we didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know if this was just going to blow over by this time and everything like that.

"Moving away and being by myself, it's a new experience and just being out there by yourself and having to stay in a dorm room, just do homework all day, you can't really go out and see your friends. You can't have that true first-year experience. The sport aspect didn't play a lot into the conversation for me. It was more just me feeling that at-home, first-year experience."

The social aspect, he says, is too often overlooked when it comes to the university experience.

"It was just not being able to have that experience," added the former Huronia Stallion. "I understand that there's a lot where you can't do much about it, but at the same time, it just makes me feel safer being here at home with my family knowing that we're taking all those preventative measures, knowing that I'm not putting myself in a situation where I can get infected or something like that.

"At university, just in the past couple of weeks, you've seen it just spreads like wildfire once one person has it."

Mrazek has a full-time job working with a local landscaping company; it not only helps him earn some much-needed money for school, but the physical labour helps him keep in shape.

He also purchased some weights and lifts four or five times a week in his basement.

But he misses the camaraderie of playing on a team and just being around his friends. That will have to wait.

"Oh yeah, hands down," Mrazek said of missing being on the field.  "I miss going hanging out with the guys on the weekends and just hanging out after school and helping each other with homework or sitting around a camp fire, or something like that.

"It's something that I miss a lot and taking some getting used to not being able to go see your friends all the time, but it's something we all got to do. Everybody's got to make sacrifices."

Getting back to some sense of normalcy means following the protocols put out by the province and health officials. To that extent, Mrazek says his family makes sure they are doing their part.

"We take every precaution seriously," he said. "We don't see our grandparents and stuff like that. We try to stay in the house as much as possible. We're just trying to do our part in the whole thing. As long as everyone does that, this whole thing would be resolved.

"Obviously, there's people that aren't taking those precautions and that's why we're in the situation we are right now."

The recent rise in coronavirus numbers in the province and across the country affirm the young athlete he made the right decision early on to take the year off.

"I feel good I made the decision," Mrazek said. "Obviously, do I wish I was at school and everything right now? Of course. I wish I was there with all the guys I got to meet when I was going through my recruiting process. I wish I was getting to have that experience, but it's just not the way it is right now. I'm glad I stayed home and staying safe right now."

Despite the recent rising COVID-19 numbers, Mrazek remains optimistic we'll soon find a way and see things return to normal.

"I just hope all athletes out there are doing their part to stay safe," he said. "Hang in there, I think there's light at the end of the tunnel for everybody."



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