Over recent years we have seen a larger than expected growth from the game of football in Canada. With over 20 Canadians now on rosters in the NFL and over one hundred at the NCAA division one level, it is fantastic to see Canadian athletes getting opportunities around the world, at the highest of stages but there is a lot that went into getting to this point and as Canadians around the game of football there are ways that you can continue growing the game in Canada. One major factor in its growth already has been the recruiting. In the past it was extremely difficult for athletes to get an opportunity to play across the border being from Canada; University camps weren’t as popular and accessible as they are today, sending film was much more difficult and the biggest of them all is that the coaching style was very different than it is in today’s world. In Canada coaches were there to coach the fundamentals of the game of football. Of course that still is the one of the biggest parts of coaching but the new generation of coaches in Canada have also added to it. Bringing in the life aspect, the school aspect and the training that goes into being a world class athlete. We now have the technology to send film to University coaches with one click of a button which is great but what has changed a lot of lives hasn’t been the upload of HUDL, it has been coaching. A prime example of the new generation of coaches is Philip Edworthy from the Greator Toronto Area.
Edworthy and Sean Gaudon started MVP Football Academy in 2016, being just one of many football programs in Canada but one of the only ones at the time that offered what they did exactly. It begun as a football association, giving the younger athletes the best opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the game and improve as a football player, though shortly after starting MVP Football Academy in 2016 Philip Edworthy was introduced to University recruiting. “When I first started I wasn’t too familiar with recruiting.” Edworthy said, “When we started to get more involved with the athletes we went to more University camps and the first one we went to one of the players got an offer.” After a couple offers to division one schools and going to more University camps MVP Football Academy expanded into a 7 on 7 team, playing in 7 on 7 tournaments in the states and some in Canada when they came up. “It was an awesome way to get more exposure for the kids in recruiting and they are fun tournaments to be at as well.” explained coach Philip Edworthy, “We were having success with the recruiting aspect and got to meet a lot of people, building connections and even at a tournament in California we were able to meet with another Canadian team.”
While at a 7 on 7 football tournament in California, Philip Edworthy met Keon Raymond, 10 year professional football defensive back who is mostly known as a two time Grey Cup Champion and two time west all-star as a part of the Calgary Stampeders defensive back field. Raymond, since retiring from the CFL in 2016 has begun his career as a football coach. Starting with his own 7 on 7 team in Calgary and now being a part of the Canadian wide 7 on 7 football league started by Philip Edoworthy of MVP Football Academy in Ontario. When talking about 7 on 7 football and his start in it he comments, “When I retired from football I knew I had to find something to do and I wanted to do something in football. Being in Calgary for as long as I was playing for the Stampeders I built a connection with the community. I saw their spring season that they play and then a fall season too, coming from the states we only have one season and having two tackle football seasons in one year is too much tackle, seeing how popular 7 on 7 teams are in the south and the impact it has in recruiting I started my own 7 on 7 team in Calgary.” Raymond’s 7 on 7 football team in Calgary, ‘The Big Time Players’ started just over three years ago, playing the majority of games in the Calgary area while participating in travel seasons across the border and now with MVP Football Academy’s newest innovation in Canada they will be a part of Canadian wide tournaments as well. In just a short period of time, Keon and Phillip James have each noticed a big impact that the 7 on 7 football game has on recruiting in Canada, Raymond says, “Its big. When you go to tournaments in the states it’s amazing what kind of exposure you have there. Coaches are either there in person or watching afterwards with film, instead of doing an extra tackle season like a lot of guys still do in Canada spending time in the gym, training and showcasing talent has gone a long way.”
Keon Raymond has now seen a number of his players get opportunities at the next level, soon Quarterback Danny McMullen will be a part of the list. The quarterback is ranked as Canadian football Chat’s number one quarterback in Alberta and as he preps for his next couple of seasons south of the border with Jesse Chinchar’s Clearwater Academy International Knights in Florida, Raymond looks back at everything the 7 on 7 game has done in McMullen’s journey and journeys of future Canadian athletes. “7 on 7 football should be bigger in Canada.” said Keon Raymond, and to back his opinion up MVP Football Academy’s Philip Edworthy states, “There are over 40 players that I’ve coached in just the span of a few years at MVP Football that have been given opportunities to play at the next level. Seeing the success I’ve had since just 2016, if more coaches follow my lead and the lead of many other great coaches in Canada we can have something special and soon we won’t have to go to the states to perform, the states could come to us.”
Having University coaches from the NCAA Division one level coming to Canada for 7 on 7 tournaments is a big goal set by Edworthy and Raymond but until then they hope to grow the game of football in Canada, starting with what they are a part of most, the 7 on 7 game. “There hasn’t been a lot of skill position players that come out of Canada and excel but as of recent its become more popular to see them. The 7 on 7 game can be a big help in that progression as we continue to see Canadian skill position players get better and get opportunities south of the border.” Said Keon Raymond, but Keon Raymond is not the only professional athlete recognizing that there is talent in Canada. It has been something that CFL and NFL players have known for some time now but it is only now being recognized because of the amount of opportunities and examples out there. When talking about how the game has grown, Raymond remembered something that Colton Hunchak said to him at one of the 7 on 7 events that they were coaching at, “Colton was telling me how there wasn’t anything like this when he was these kids’ ages and seeing where Colton is now, being in the CFL without these organized 7 on 7 tournaments and the recruiting and coaching, you wonder where he would be with it all and he’s not the only one in Canada that you can think that with. There was a lot of talented guys that I played with in the CFL and now with what we are setting up we are only going to see brighter futures.”
Colton Hunchak, a Calgary native who played his University ball at York University in the OUA is now a member of the Calgary Stampeders, Keon Raymond’s former team and caught 16 passes for 231 yards in his rookie campaign in 2019, just one of many Canadians balling out at the next level and giving back to the younger generation. We are now in a point in time where we see 20 Canadians in the NFL, 6 going to this year’s NFL Combine and hundreds of Canadians having success at the division one level. It is truly a great thing to see for Canadian athletes and coaches, for Philip Edworthy though, he’s not surprised, “we all knew we had guys here that could compete at the next level, now we just have better opportunities and coaching to showcase it. Having professional athletes giving back to communities Canada-wide like what Keon does in Calgary and the University camps that coaches take their players to, everything factors into what we are seeing happen with players succeeding.”
To now begin the growth of 7 on 7 football in Canada, MVP Football Academy is hosting their first ever 7 on 7 football tournament in Toronto this May, followed by Keon Raymond’s Canada-wide tournament in June hosted in Calgary where the 7 on 7 Association of Canada will have the best 7 on 7 organizations like Jordan Linnen’s Game Ready team from Vancouver, BC and Bradley Black’s Recruit Ready team from Winnipeg. Its proven that there are a number of great athletes and coaches in Canada, the 7 on 7 format will only continue to demonstrate just that.