There was a time that Devon Stober struggled with confidence. It’s probably strange for teammates of the former Guelph Gryphons rugby star to hear, given her status as one of the best leaders in the program’s decorated history. In a sport filled with imposing athletes, Stober was the player who always stood out. The native of Rustenburg, South Africa was a fixture on the Gryphons women’s rugby team for five years, a tall, athletic, and tough individual, who evolved from a shy rookie into a hard-nosed captain and All-Canadian.
The lessons learned on the rugby pitch are very much a part of her life two years after her varsity career came to an end.
“It was an incredible experience,” Stober, now in her second year of vet school at the University of Guelph, said of her time representing the red, black and gold. “We were a strong and successful team and they continue to be to this day. I was very lucky to have the great coaching and play with the athletes that I did.
“Being a member of the team during those years was fantastic for me. I got to experience a whole other level of rugby that was different from what I had previously played.”
Stober was indeed a standout as a player. Head coach Colette McAuley called her “Queen of the Lineout,” suggesting that the towering 6-0 lock never lost one in her five years as a Gryphon. Stober was one of those athletes that was a pleasure for her to coach.
“Stober took what you said at face value,” said McAuley. “She knew it wasn’t personal, she just put her head down and tried to get better. She led her team by example, a leader who all of her teammates were comfortable going to about issues on the field and off the field. She was very approachable.
“And she was excellent academically and athletically. She grew into this exceptional human being.”
What Stober learned on the pitch, she applied to life outside it. She said that it was McAuley who drilled into her and her teammates’ brains from day one the importance of being resilient. Stober remembered that when she got a bad mark or stressed about getting into vet school, “moments of pure defeat,” as she called them.
“It wasn’t always happy and celebrating wins,” she said. “We had a few losses and times that required a lot of perseverance. It was something we were all able to get through as a team. We weren’t just players and coaches. It was one big family.
“I found a way to get myself back up,” she added. “It’s something Colette helped develop in me.”
Sports opened doors for Stober, who came to Canada at the age of five. And rugby was a natural fit, the sport of choice in her family played by her South African grandfather, Dad, and older brother Matt, whom she aspired to be like. Stober played for the Brampton Beavers during the summers of her high school years and eventually joined the Guelph Red Coats, a side that included many Gryphon teammates.
As Stober played more, she got better, especially at the U of G. One of the most tangible benefits was developing the confidence that enabled her to succeed at not just rugby but also off the pitch. She embraced the idea of representing the Gryphons and being called on to speak in public, which only had a positive impact when she eventually interviewed for vet school. Those “scary situations” simply don’t phase her anymore.
And Stober was recognized for her commitment to athletics and academics at a gala two years ago with the first She’s Got Game scholarship awarded to a Gryphon, a $4,500-prize that eased the massive financial burden of university. She had earned it through hard work and was ecstatic to represent her teammates and the entire women’s athletics program.
“I didn’t believe coach at first,” Stober said with a laugh upon hearing the news she was the scholarship recipient. “It was such an incredible honour.”
As a student in Applewood Heights Secondary in Mississauga, Stober had no idea what varsity sports and university would be like, or the opportunities that existed. She is therefore a staunch supporter of She’s Got Game and hopes that the initiative can influence female athletes all over the country. Stober wants more athletes, with their differing dreams, to be heard so that the movement gains more traction.
She was able to realize some of her own athletic dreams, like winning two OUA titles during her tenure. Her focus has now shifted on to career goals, which will likely include running a veterinary practice or going abroad to assist with animal care in countries that lack resources. When her work life commences, Stober will call upon her athletic experience to guide her, especially in the most difficult times.
The future vet feels strongly that She’s Got Game can help inspire girls at younger ages to continue on their chosen paths. And she looks forward to more of their stories being told.
“Sports, and this team in particular, gave me so many opportunities to build that confidence,” Stober said. “I look back on this experience as one of the best parts of my life and something that shaped me into who I am today.”