Over the last two NFL off-seasons nothing has been normal. The entire world, including the sports world has been forced to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has impacted a lot of football player’s careers. At the beginning of the pandemic, all University Pro Days were cancelled, cancelling opportunities for non combine invitees to showcase their skills in front of the 32 NFL teams, later the NFL’s training camp and pre-season were changed to voluntary and cancelled and then in July it was announced that the CFL would be cancelling their 2020 season. Those were just a few of the many things that came up and impacted a number of athletes trying to make it to a high level in football, not to mention the universities that missed out on the 2020 seasons and all of the players that may have been forced to retire, but as we get further into this pandemic and we see more things open up we are beginning to see more opportunities for athletes to showcase themselves, more specifically Free Agents.
Nearing the end of the 2020 calendar year we saw The Spring League kick-off their first ever regular season where a number of Free Agent football players played and had the opportunity to perform, some even getting opportunities in the CFL and NFL afterwards just like some players of the Fan Controlled Football League have been making a push to do. One of the players of the Fan Controlled Football League, TJ Edwards talked to me about his will to play in the NFL and what he is doing to get there. “I want to play in the NFL.” he said, “Its something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and now I am the closest I’ve ever been to that opportunity so to be able to be in the mix with the other free agents and this years draft class I’m doing a pro day with a group of free agents set up by my agency.” Edwards’ agent Perry Boler of Team Up Sports Consulting LLC has set up a Pro Day in Shreveport, Louisiana on Sunday, April 18th for all of the players he represents that are striving for an opportunity in the NFL though Edwards isn’t the only Fan Controlled Football League player that will perform at the Pro Day.
TJ Edwards will be alongside Ladarius Galloway, Caleb Lewis, Travonte Valentine, Joseph Boykin and Kavontae Turpin who all played in the FCFL with him as well and Edwards believes that the FCFL has helped him develop and get better as he continues his path to the NFL. When I talked with him on Friday he commented, “It was awesome to be able to compete against guys that played in the NFL and CFL before and also get coached by players and coaches that have been around a few hall of famers and it really was a confidence booster.” He also told me, “I got better from the coaching and guidance. Coach Jenks helped me get in the league and really taught me a lot of NFL stuff and I’ve adapted to what NFL quarterbacks do so I’m very thankful for that opportunity.”
That opportunity in the FCFL, where Edwards threw for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for an additional 197 yards and 3 scores clearly helped him adjust to the NFL and with the dream still alive to play in the league he believes he can provide a large impact with whichever team decides too bring him in. He told me, “I hope to impress all 32 teams and the CFL teams in my Pro Day but I think if anyone brings be in I will be a perfect team player, and I know I can help any team when I get the opportunity to do so.”
As mentioned, TJ Edwards will be performing at the Team Up Sports Consulting LLC Pro Day this Sunday in Shreveport, Louisiana alongside 5 other FCFL players so keep all eyes on TJ Edwards as he looks to make an impact on any team that decides to take him in.
Over recent years we have seen a consistent growth in Canadian talent in the game of football. A large number of Canadian athletes have been able to go across the border, stateside and have tremendous careers in both the NCAA and the NFL. In the 2020 NFL Draft it was showcased with Canadians going in back to back rounds, Chase Claypool in round two to Pittsburgh and Neville Gallimore in round three to the Dallas Cowboys but the real demonstration comes on Thursday, April 29th through Saturday May 1st. In the 2021 NFL Draft hosted in Cleveland, Ohio we are expected to see approximately 5 or 6 Canadians get their name called and have the opportunity to play in the NFL alongside Claypool and Gallimore. Highlighting this year’s NFL Draft class of Canadians is running back Chuba Hubbard. Hubbard, who grew up just outside of Edmonton, Alberta will be the first Canadian running back drafted into the NFL since Tim Biakabutuka was selected 8th overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 NFL Draft, though it is also noted that he will not be the last running back picked to play in the NFL from Canada.
Alongside Hubbard in the NCAA’s 2020 season was Canadian running back Chase Brown who rushed for over 500 yards in 6 starts at Illinois, and now Ludovick Choquette who is finishing his 2020/2021 NCAAF season with the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks where he’s had 190 scrimmage yards in his two starts. Both Brown and Choquette still have a lot of time ahead of their NFL Drafts, though should be looked at more and more as they continue to play well across the border, like Choquette’s high school teammate Brendon Barrow who will be playing at Stanford this coming fall in the PAC-12.
Brendon Barrow and Ludovick Choquette were both featured in coach Jesse Chinchar’s 2019 Clearwater Academy International offensive backfield with quarterback Luca Stanzani. A backfield that has seen a lot of Canadians and will continue to see Canadians as Chinchar expects to see Merton Theagene and Isaiah Adams return to the Knights as well as Khalid Campbell, an Ottawa, Ontario native who will be joining the Clearwater Academy Knights for the 2021 High School Football season. Of the three, I was able to talk with both Theagene and Campbell about their opportunity to play at Clearwater. Following the first season he spent at Clearwater Academy in Florida last year Merton Theagene said, “This was a perfect opportunity for me.” and explained how he got there, why its a great opportunity saying, “coach Jesse and I messaged back and forth in Grade 10 but I wasn’t to sure about it but when I got more serious about football it was a no brainer to take up the offer. It is a great position to be in in the United States because I can now show that I can play with the American players before I go to University.” Being able to showcase the ability to play against American talent at the high school level is something a lot of Canadians hope to do to ease the recruiting process and for Theagene he’s already had the opportunity to see the recruiting process first hand. Growing up in Montreal he had family play at the University level in Canada, playing at Notre Dame High School in Quebec he saw a lot of players from school go and play at the next level and most recently watching Brendon Barrow, who started in front of him in 2020 go through his signing day with Stanford gave him a lot of insight as well as motivation.
When asked about the 2020 season spent with 247Sports’ 8th ranked 2021 running back Brendon Barrow, Merton Theagene had mentioned, “It was great to watch him play and learn some things from him. He’s a very talented player and I want to have a similar opportunity as he does so I took advantage of the year with him and also the coaching we had in Florida.” Not only was Theagene coached by Jesse Chinchar who has helped several international players live out their division one dreams but he also had the opportunity to be coached by coach Jean Guillaume. Guillaume, an Ottawa High School Football coach is known across Canada for the work he has done at St Matthews High School in Orleans, just down the 417 from downtown Ottawa as well as his own program The Northern Maroons where he has coached players like Kervens Bonhomme, Katley Joseph, Jesse Luketa, Willy-Pierre Dimbongi, Geri Theodore, Shakespeare Louis, Ebenezer Dibula, A.K Ismail, Alain Cimankinda and many more, each their respective way to the University level. He spent the 2020 High School Football season across the border coaching both defensive backs and running backs at Clearwater Academy International alongside Ottawa players Nathan Casimir, Shakespeare Louis, Alex Vilain, and Ebenezer Dibula who he helped get there. “He’s incredible” said Theagene when talking about Coach Jean Guillaume. “He does so much for his players. It was a great time being coached by him at Clearwater and I’m definitely going to see him in Ottawa this summer to train with him.”
A player that Merton Theagene may come across in Ottawa if he trains there this summer with Coach Jean Guillaume would be Khalid Campbell. Campbell who has grown up in Ottawa isn’t coached by Guillaume but is often on the same fields as he is, getting in work with Gridiron Academy’s Victor Tedondo who like Guillaume is a well known coach north of the border, having coached a number of players to the University level and even Eli Ankou to the NFL. Khalid Campbell will be attending Clearwater Academy International this fall, and like Theagene looks to make an impact as a Canadian running back. The Ottawa running back has made his presence felt, having won 3 championships in Ottawa’s football leagues while being named team MVP 4 times by his Cumberland Panthers coaches but eventhough he’s already had some success in Ottawa he knows that doesn’t mean much south of the border. He said in an interview, “I want to prove everyone wrong, give back to my community and help kids where I grew up from to also have the same opportunity as me.”
The opportunity that Khalid Campbell has in Clearwater, Florida could be a life changing opportunity like it has been for many players like both running backs Ludovick Choquette and Brendon Barrow mentioned previously and Campbell understands that. He has one big goal coming into the opportunity down south and is determined to reach it, “All I want is to play Division one football and make it to the league one day.” he said. A goal that a lot of people have but at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds this 2024 running back, with the coaching he has had in Ottawa with Victor Tedondo, as well as the coaching he is set to have south of the border has a strong chance of getting there.
Both Campbell and Theagene will be suiting up for the Clearwater Academy International Knights this fall, as Canadians they not only will be representing Clearwater Academy but the entire country of Canada as they continue their journey to the division one level.
In the game of football, unlike hockey, baseball, soccer or basketball there is just one superior league, the NFL. The NFL is by far the biggest football league and always will be. In front of international leagues over seas as well as small startup leagues, the NFL has the most money, the most talent and with the talent and money combined the league has the most attention worldwide for football. When you think of football you think of the NFL, but that doesn’t mean that other leagues cannot be successful, and for the NFL to be as strong as it is it needs other leagues to be successful. The NFL needs leagues like the CFL, and XFL to have player development at the professional level, another opportunity for athletes if the NFL isn’t an option just yet and it creates an opportunity to go to the NFL as well, though in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic we weren’t able to see a CFL or XFL season be played. Like many lines of work, professional football players were in trouble. If you didn’t have a contract in the NFL for the 2020 season chances are you found a job outside of football to have an income, simply because there was no football being played elsewhere unless you went over seas, but once life started to get a little bit back to normal in the United States football was starting to get played once again. The NFL began their season in September in sync with a few University conferences and then The Spring League had it’s first season, creating opportunities for free agent players searching a chance at the NFL. Followed by The Spring League was the Fan Controlled Football League and their inaugural season.
At the beginning it seemed like a joke to many football fans. Hearing that the fans were the ones drafting the teams as if it was fantasy football and calling the plays like EA Sports’ Madden NFL Football video games, it just didn’t seem like a realistic way to play football, though it wasn’t long after all of the announcements that people began to buy into the league, eventually having 2.1 million viewers for “The Peoples Championship” game. The league was a great opportunity for free agent players, very similar to an arena football league or The Spring League, giving players with NFL dreams a chance to play football professionally and being able to showcase their skills in front of NFL and CFL coaches and scouts but the Fan Controlled Football League was different. What made the Fan Controlled Football League interesting and what stuck out the most from the league was its interaction with its fans. Of course its in the name so you would have expected some sort of interaction, though the fans really felt a part of the league, unlike the big leagues like the NFL. They selected the teams every Wednesday, called the plays on game day and participated in player activities on social media throughout the weeks, giving fans and players a chance to connect and build relationships. One player that built a lot of connections with the fans throughout the weeks with the player activities and his play on the field was receiver Andrew Jamiel.
Coming out of Stonehill College, an NCAA division two school in Easton, Massachusetts just over an hour north west of his home town of Cape Cod Jamiel had hopes of going to the NFL. Having caught for well over 3,000 yards in his collegiate career, breaking records and showing a full dominance, it seemed reachable to make it to a fairly high level of football, though unfortunately due to COVID-19, his chance to perform in front of professional scouts and coaches at the Stonehill College pro day last year was erased. He ended up going to one New England Patriots tryout where he was able to go one on one against some of the Patriots’ cornerbacks, but other that that with no NFL pre-season and the XFL and CFL having to cancel their seasons it was tough for Andrew Jamiel and other small school players to get an opportunity to showcase themselves. When the Fan Controlled Football League was announced he said, “This was the opportunity I needed.” The opportunity to play in the league was his first ever professional football opportunity so Jamiel took advantage of it when it came to him. Eventhough it may not have been the biggest opportunity in the world compared to the NFL or CFL, Jamiel believed it was big enough and made it a big enough opportunity with the people he was surrounded by. Jamiel had mentioned, “Being able to be around guys that played or coached at the highest level possible is amazing, it was truly a great experience and I learnt a lot from the people involved and the time I spent there.”
Some names that stuck out in the league and names that made the league blow up, getting to 2.1 million live viewers for the final game would be active and former NFL players, social media stars and icons like Josh Gordon, Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Austin Ekeler, Johnny Manziel, Robert Turbin, Quavo, Shawn Oakman, Bob Menry, Ronnie 2K, and Deestroying. Each one of them were a part of the league, among hundreds of other players, coaches, staff members and owners, really to make a difference and help grow the league but as for the players that have played in the league like both Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel they were also there to coach the players and teach them more about the game as well as the NFL. When asked about the presence of both Gordon and Manziel, Jamiel said to me in our interview, “I hung around those guys a lot, they are great guys. Being able to learn from them about the professional game was great. I grew up watching those guys play, both are some of the best at their positions when they played and Josh probably still is but putting that a side being able to watch Josh run his routes and talking to him made me better. They both knew that they were helping the league market themselves but they also knew they were there to help the players like me too which made it even better.”
Players like Jamiel were in the Fan Controlled Football League to get an opportunity in the NFL or CFL, even the XFL if they come up again and looking back at Jamiel’s time in the FCFL, he had a lot of success, catching 21 passes for over 300 yards and 9 touchdowns as well as 8 conversion attempts which in the FCFL were one on one routes in the end zone. When asked about his goal for after the FCFL he commented, “I want to play at the highest level that I can. Whether that be the NFL or CFL that is where I want to be and I think I can play at that level too.” After his Fan Controlled Football League performance in just the 6 games he played there he definitely showcased enough to get one opportunity to try out somewhere and it that opportunity has been showed close enough. Jamiel said, “I’ve talked to a few scouts already, the league was well advertised, having over 2 million people watching the final game live shows that we had that spotlight and now getting the chance to talk with some scouts is great. I think I can play in the big league. Whether that be in Canada or in the NFL, I just needed this opportunity to showcase that and now the rest will take care of itself.”
Now as Jamiel continues to put in his off-season work and he waits for an opportunity in the CFL or NFL, it just takes one click of a button to checkout his spectacular 2020 Fan Controlled Football season. Checkout his highlight package below.
When Chase Claypool was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers dreams became reachable for many Canadian football players. For years the only Canadian athletes showcased on the big stage were offensive and defensive linemen. Players like Tyrone Crawford, David Onyemata and Laurent Duvernay Tardif were often marketed as the best Canadians in the NFL but with Claypool being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and having scored 13 touchdowns in his rookie campaign young Canadian football players can now look up to skill position players. Claypool isn’t the only Canadian skill position player in the NFL and there will only be more around him as we look into the future. Right now we can watch both Nkeal Harry and Chase Claypool playing in the NFL for the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers but following this year’s NFL Draft and those to come the NFL could have Volunteer Joshua Palmer, Virginia’s Terrell Jana, Alabama Crimson Tide’s John Metchie, Jared Wayne of PITT, and Clemson’s Ajou Ajou at receiver as well as running backs Chase Brown from Illinois and Oklahoma State Cowboys star Chuba Hubbard. When asked about the growth of talent and recognition for skill position Canadians president of Football Canada Jim Mullin said, “We can now put guys like Chase Claypool, Chuba Hubbard and John Metchie on posters to help kids visualize themselves at the next level.”
One kid that can visualize himself at the next level with help from the continuous success of Canadians like Chase Claypool, Chuba Hubbard and John Metchie is Montreal born and raised receiver Dylan Djete. Djete began playing football because of family and friends, then fell in love with the game. Noticing that it is much more than just a game, that it is a family, a lifestyle and a field of opportunity, Dylan Djete became more involved in the game of football, transitioning from youth house league football which he started playing at the age of 8 to competitive with team Quebec. With team Quebec Djete was able to play in the gold medal match of the Canada Cup and despite losing the game to Saskatchewan won the defensive player of the game, getting nods from both the CFL and Football Canada for the accomplishment. As he talked about the opportunity to play with team Quebec and even team Canada as well Dylan Djete commented, “It was a dream come true. Being from Montreal I saw a few guys go division one and even professional, one thing that they all did was play competitively so being able to do that and get the player of the game was awesome, and it showed me that I could play with the best.”
After showcasing his talent alongside some of the best players in Canada, Dylan Djete got another opportunity. Much bigger than the first opportunity with Team Quebec, Djete got the call from coach Jesse Chinchar of Clearwater Academy International in Florida to play football state-side. The majority of players that have gone division one and professional within the game of football have all played in the U.S for high school, following in that lead was Dylan Djete, all thanks to 4-star linebacker Edwin Tara-Kolenge. He said, “When Edwin got in, he told Jesse about me and they had a few spots for receiver. It was amazing to get the opportunity and being here has been a great experience so far too.” A great experience, full of opportunities and success in Clearwater for wide receiver Dylan Djete. Success even coming in his first ever game across the border, scoring a total 3 touchdowns on well over a 200 receiving yard performance, though that kind of success wasn’t expected of Djete.
Djete says “it was a blessing. I was doubting myself, I didn’t know how I would do against Americans but after 3 touchdowns in the first game in Florida I was like ‘wow I can play with them’.” The first game, playing against the Brentwood Eagles out of Tennessee which Dylan Djete had three scores in earned him a spot on that week’s Under The Radar YouTube video that now has over 91,000 views, followed by another Under The Radar spotlight after the full Clearwater Academy International season. He says, “As a kid I always watched Under The Radar on YouTube, watching some of the best athletes perform on Friday nights and dreaming of having that same spotlight and now I’m here. Its like dreams keep coming true when I play football.” The end of season spotlight from Under The Radar featured training clips of Djete as well as his best plays of the 2020 season. His season totals were 31 catches, 780+ yards and 9 touchdowns.
One thing not featured in the Under The Radar spotlight and is an underrated attribute for Djete is his versatility and football I.Q. In the 2020 high school season spent across the border in Florida, the Clearwater Academy International quarterback Luca Stanzani suffered an injury, leaving him out of a good portion of a game or two, one of the players filling in for Stanzani was Dylan Djete. Though Djete didn’t necessarily put on a show at quarterback he was still able to demonstrate his ability to read defences from the pocket and his knowledge from the quarterback position instead of just the receiver position. This wasn’t the only time Dylan Djete played a different position, the now star receiver played defensive back for Team Quebec, winning defensive MVP in the National Championship game against Saskatchewan in 2019. Being able to read defences, and really understand the defensive back position can be crucial as a receiver and he believes it is one of his best attributes. Djete said to me in an interview, “It helps a lot because I am not the fastest receiver nor am I the tallest. It makes up for the lack of size and speed because sometimes I know what the defensive back is going to do before he does it, to make the next move I don’t need a lot of speed, I can just be smart about it and do what works best now that I know what will happen on the other side.”
The ability to play quarterback and defensive back should be a major help in his recruiting process, not because he can play it at a high level but because he’s already been taught the fundamentals of the two positions, making his job as a receiver much easier when he knows what the quarterback is looking for on a play and what a defensive back could be doing on certain routes and in different coverages but his football I.Q doesn’t beat his work ethic. Like a lot of Canadian players that have crossed the border to play high school football, Djete has used his opportunity in Clearwater as a business trip. It is his opportunity to showcase himself to coaches at the next level and improving his skills and talents while doing so. “I always want to be better.” said Djete, “My work ethic and my football I.Q are my biggest strengths in the game of football. I really eat, sleep and live football every day because I have the goal to play at the highest level of football and I have the goal of being the best receiver in the nation.”
Having the goal to play at the highest level of football, Djete has the dream of playing his post-secondary football career at the university of Alabama. Following in fellow Canadian John Metchie’s footsteps Djete says, “They are the best team out there and they have the best coaches. I don’t see a better spot to dream of going.”
Like many, Dylan Djete has the dream of playing for the great Nick Saban and at the receiver powerhouse where star receivers Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith all went, though he also has looked into a few schools which other Quebec natives have gone. He mentioned, “Syracuse has recruited a lot of Montreal players. To be able to play with people back home would be great too.”
No matter where Djete lands after his senior season with the Clearwater Academy International Knights, he will have the opportunity to not only prove that he can play at a high level but Canadian receivers can as well. The country will now have Chase Claypool, Nkeal Harry, Joshua Palmer and Terrell Jana all in the NFL following this year’s NFL Draft and with players like John Metchie, Ajou Ajou (CAI alum) and Jared Wayne (CAI alum) all on the come up, Dylan Djete can be a key name for the future Canadian receivers in the NFL.
When the CFL returned to the city of Ottawa in 2014 lives were changed. A number of athletes got their first professional opportunities, coaches got their foot in the door for the first time and numerous individuals fell in love with the football culture in Ottawa, Danny O’Brien was among those people. O’Brien, a product of Kernersville, North Carolina had an ecstatic redshirt freshman campaign in 2010 with Maryland, winning ACC Rookie of the Year and paving way for an eventful collegiate career spent across the country, ending up playing for Wisconsin University in the BIG 10 and Catawba College, a division two school. After going un-drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft he got the opportunity to play in Ottawa, being a part of the first ever team to play at the TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, Ontario. He was one of 5 quarterbacks on the roster, among Alex Carder, Thomas DeMarco and Joey Elliott backing up CFL Hall of Fame Henry Burris. Danny O’Brien ended up playing in Ottawa for 3 seasons, mostly serving as a backup to Burris, but did get some playing time, throwing for 660 yards and two touchdowns on 57 completions before winning the Grey Cup and leaving to play elsewhere.
After leaving Ottawa, he played three seasons on the west-coast of Canada, 2 in Edmonton and the 2019 season in Vancouver with the B.C Lions but even-though he was able to get in some games and even start one, the 385 yards and one touchdown he threw outside of Ottawa never took away his love for the nation’s capital and the football culture there. Just recently he was able to be re-introduced to the city he knows very well of Ottawa, Ontario when he was named Offensive Analyst for the Penn State University Nittany Lions Football team.
This isn’t O’Brien’s first coaching gig as he has already been on the coaching staff of the CFL’s B.C Lions and was able to start a youth football academy back home in North Carolina with Will Bradley who played receiver at Temple University as a walk on, DOB Elite Football Academy. Though like the academy this coaching gig has so much familiarity around it at the next level including the amount of players from Ottawa that he is coaching. “Its been awesome,” O’Brien said, “Playing in Ottawa I was able to see that they have a real football culture. Canada isn’t known for its football but people are starting to recognize that there is good football being played there. Being able to see players like C.V (Christian Vellieux), (Jonathan) Sutherland and (Jesse) Luketa is awesome, having played in Ottawa and seeing them at this level is cool but its really big for the next generation to see that it is a possibility to play power 5 football from Ottawa.” As the offensive analyst for the Nittany Lions, O’Brien is also very close with other Canadian players at Penn State like both Theo Johnson, a tight end out of Windsor, Ontario and St. Jerome, Quebec receiver Malick Meiga, furthermore Danny O’Brien is also on the same staff as James Franklin, who recruited him heavily while at Maryland.
Having the familiarity around him at Penn State has made it an “easier transition” for O’Brien. He says, “I’ve always wanted to get into coaching. It was ideal to retire and get a gig where I am most comfortable.” Though the familiarity wasn’t the only thing that intrigued him when Franklin and his staff welcomed O’Brien to Happy Valley. Danny O’Brien believes that getting into coaching is the best way to “pay it forward.” The 6 year CFL quarterback has a great success story to his name looking back at his Rookie of the Year performance at Maryland, the BIG 10 Championship with Wisconsin and the unbelievable 2016 Grey Cup that he won with the Ottawa Redblacks in the middle of his CFL career. Although, when you look behind all of the success, like every other athlete that has stepped foot on a football field he had some dark times and fought adversity throughout his career, something that will make him an even better coach. O’Brien said, “All of the bad times, the transferring, being cut, being benched, all of the negativity that I faced over the span of my career. At the time I didn’t look at it this way but they are extremely valuable experiences for the younger generation to learn from. I want to make sure that the players I coach don’t make the same mistakes I did and are able to learn from the tough times I had as a player.”
Going into this opportunity at Penn State University O’Brien set 2 goals for himself. He stated in my interview with him, “I want to add as much value as I possibly can to the program day in, day out but I also want to be a sponge. The staff here (at Penn State) has so much experience and knowledge on it. Its a perfect opportunity for myself to have, being around so many successful and smart individuals, it is incredible and I believe that the coaches that are the most successful are always the ones that are in a continuous state of learning. The day that you think you know everything is the day you have to quit. No matter who you are you can learn something everyday so if I am able to soak up the most out of this opportunity with this program I will be happy.”
O’Brien has now been on Happy Valley for a couple of weeks, coaching the offensive side of the ball as they prepare for their inner-team spring games coming later this month. The Nittany Lions will be kicking off their 2021 NCAA season against Danny O’Brien’s alma mater the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 4th. Stay up to date with the storyline on the group of Canadians playing for Penn State this year as both Luketa and Sutherland enter their CFL/NFL Draft year while Christian Vellieux, Malick Meiga and Theo Johnson all try to prove themselves as key offensive playmakers in O’Brien, Franklin and Mike Yurcich’s offence for the 2021 season and beyond.
The city of Ottawa has always been a hotspot for talent. We’ve always seen people come out of Ottawa and be successful in a number of different fields, though it is only recently that we’ve seen success happen through the game of football. Sports has been a big thing for not only the city of Ottawa but the country of Canada for some time now, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball and even baseball but as time starts to go by the game of football is continuing to evolve into something larger than life in Canada, most specifically in Ottawa. Over just the span of 5 years we have seen exactly what some had talked about come to fruition. Canada will never be as high up in the game of football as the United States and Canadian athletes have grown to respect that, though they haven’t come to peace with the fact that Canadian athletes aren’t given the same amount of opportunity as Americans. Players across the United States are given the most exposure in the world, getting talked about in the media and having scouts at games from the division one level is just a regular week for most athletes in states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana or California, but is something that athletes in Ottawa dream of. Thanks to players like Eli Ankou, Neville Gallimore, Alex Mateas and even players from the past like Jesse Palmer who have set the tone for Ottawa athletes, the city has been recognized a little more over the last while for the football being played in it, though the best is yet to come. The city is continuously getting looked at more and more for the football being played in Ottawa, from the youth football to the Ottawa Redblacks at the professional level, everything is being looked at and is improving daily. A great example of that is Ottawa’s very own Alain Cimankinda.
Alain Cimankinda is likely one of the best athletes that the city of Ottawa has seen over the past few years. He has shown it at every stage of football, from youth football all the way to the University level and come spring Cimankinda will be able to begin his professional career, showcasing his talent at the CFL level though it wasn’t easy for him to get to this point. To become a professional athlete and a very successful person off of the field Cimankinda has had to go through a lot of adversity and moving forward with his football career he hopes to show the world that if he can be where he is today, as a professional athlete, you can tackle your own obstacles as well. Doing so, Alain Cimankinda has teamed up with a group of sports enthusiasts and content creators in Ottawa to work on his very own documentary series. The documentary series will document what he’s gone through to get to where he is today, his prep for the CFL Draft this spring as well as a day in the life style documentary where Cimankinda’s audience will have the chance to see what the star defensive lineman does off of the field, his trainings, what he eats on a daily basis, his entrepreneurial life and the people that he talks to the most.
In all, the main goal of the documentary series is to inspire others. Alain Cimankinda went through a lot to get to where he is and he continues to break the barriers in his way of success on and off of the field; something he hopes others can do as well. The man behind the vision to start the documentary project, Ronny Musikitele, a sports enthusiast and owner Skyline Sports Global where he does his part to bring athletes of all stages, youth, university and pro to the highest level possible. Musikitele has been a big supporter of Alain Cimankinda since he was in youth league; being aware of the talent and athletic abilities that run in the Cimankinda family, starting with Alain’s older brothers and of course ending with Alain and his younger bother J.P Cimankinda who is signed to play with the University of Ottawa Gee Gees in 2021. He has seen Alain grow from the outside looking in and as he has watched him grow not only as an athlete but as a person he has been keen on bringing the Alain Cimankinda story to more people outside of just Ottawa. The best way to do so and the way that Musikitele and Cimankinda both agreed upon was a documentary series, when asked about the project which is almost in the works pending Covid-19 restrictions Musikitele had said, “I met Alain when I was young, I was actually close with his cousin when I was around 7 or 8 years old which kind of exposed me to him and his family. As a sports fan and one that played sports growing up my first thought of Alain and his brothers was like ‘wow these guys are beasts’ simply because they were always bigger than other kids their age and with the athletic ability that they all had you knew that one of them would be a big name one day.”
Establishing his name first at Guelph University, almost breaking records at the U Sport level it is looking like Alain Cimankinda will be the big name of the family. A part of the spreading of the name ‘Alain Cimankinda’ Ronny Musikitele is working on having his name known in the media, not only for football but also for the person Alain is, starting with this documentary series. Ronny added, “Its a beautiful thing what he is doing off of the field. He is a world class athlete, becoming a professional in the CFL and to see that he has a lot going on off of the field as well, being an entrepreneur and a positive influence on social media its great to see. My goal with Skyline (Sports Global, Musikitele’s company) is to help athletes and seeing that Alain is doing that too, while being an athlete I felt like he was the perfect example for what I am trying to accomplish and if enough people see what he is doing, a lot of people can be impacted by his vision.”
Alain Cimankinda’s vision has always been simple. In every stage of life he has been in; whether it was when he was in elementary school and playing youth football, going to Franco Cité and playing high school football there or even most recently when he was at post secondary school, continuing his path to the NFL or CFL he has always wanted to be the best Alain Cimankinda he can possibly be. That is something he has done on and off of the field, getting sacks on quarterbacks at every level of football, graduating university and now starting up his own companies in ‘Sauce Life Royalty’, and ‘El Saucy clothing’. To showcase exactly what he is doing he will be talking a lot in the documentary series to talk about the journey he took to get to where he is today, prepping for the CFL Draft as well as the vision and goals he has set for himself moving forward in his careers on and off of the field. When asked about the documentary coming soon Cimankinda was keen on saying, “Football was my way out. It was my calling on how I can get out of where I was, growing up in a rougher area in Ottawa but it isn’t the only avenue for my future. I am now in a comfortable position where I will make money from football but I’m also starting my life outside of football as well which will be more of my work while football will be more fun for myself. I want to make sure that people understand that they can do more outside of just one thing. If you’re an athlete or even a student athlete you don’t have to wait until after your career to start working on something major for yourself, you can do it now.” He also added when talking about the documentary, “I’m really excited about it. I am very active on social media, hoping to inspire others every chance I have to do so and now if I can share my story and my visions I think I can inspire a lot of people and really that is my only goal because it is more than just being able to have my name advertised, its to bring attention to topics that can benefit others.”
As Alain Cimankinda, Ronny Musikitele, Jordan Zlomislic and Eldrinson Vado work on the documentary series surrounding the journey and future of Alain Cimankinda; do some research on Cimankinda, learn more about his career up to this point and when the series starts to be released to the world and he is drafted into the CFL you will be caught up on the amazing journey he has taken.
Watch the trailer for the Alain B. Cimankinda Story below
This year, north of the USA-Canada border history will be made. For the first time in the history of the NFL more than 4 Canadians will be drafted into the NFL, 6 are expected to be drafted from Thursday April 29th through Saturday May 1st, breaking the record for the 4 Canadians drafted in both 1986 and 2014. With the draft now less than one month away, players have are excited and looking back at the journey they’ve taken to get to this point. “A lot of people from my situation shouldn’t even be here.” said running back Chuba Hubbard who looks to be the first Canadian running back drafted in the NFL since Tim “Touchdown Tim” Biakabutuka was drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 1996 draft, “only a few out of Canada make it. To be in this position I am forever thankful.” he continued.
Hubbard, alongside his teammate of Oklahoma State Amen Ogbongbemiga and fellow Canadians Jevon Holland, Benjamin St Juste, Joshua Palmer and Alaric Jackson have been heavily talked about on all platforms as they have been participating in all of their pre draft activities and raising eyebrows doing so. Pro days, team meetings and interviews with media have all gone extremely well from the sounds of it for the six Canadians now projected to get picked in the 2021 NFL Draft, some now higher than others. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said, “I like Josh Palmer. To me, he’s like a third, fourth round receiver who can really get vertical.” after watching him all week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama and his pro day in late March. If drafted in this year’s NFL Draft, Josh Palmer would be among Chase Claypool and Nkeal Harry, having three consecutive NFL Drafts with one Canadian receiver drafted and when you talk to Palmer, its clear that getting a call on draft night has been a dream of his for some time now. “I visualize it all the time.” he said on a zoom meeting with media ahead of his Tennessee Volunteers Pro Day. But for Palmer and also Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga who also said, “I’ve had it (dreams of playing in the NFL) for a long time. Since I started playing football in middle school.” it wasn’t an easy journey to be in the position they are today. It took a lot of hard work and dedication for these players to be at the level of football that they are at now.
Adding to his comment about his dream of playing in the NFL, as a child Ogbongbemiga remembers how he “used to walk to the bus stop at 5 am in two feet of snow to keep getting better and eventually the place (Division one/NFL) I’m at today.” For many athletes coming from Canada it isn’t the same road as a lot of Americans with the same dream to play in the NFL. It is much more complex, with many obstacles and road blocks, almost making it impossible at times, but with the mentality that these six football players have it never seemed impossible, it was simply an additional hill to climb and another opportunity to improve and be better than everyone else. When evaluating future division one players from Canada in January John Garcia Jr. of Sports Illustrated All-American had said, “It makes them stronger. Them going to prep school or University in a different country isn’t just school for them, it is a business trip. They are there on a mission, knowing that they have to be smart, do good in school and perform on the field, it has been a reason why coaches like to bring in international talent because they are premature and serious about it.”
To back up what Garcia Jr had said, in his Pro Day interviews Amen Ogbongbemiga was asked about what him and Chuba Hubbard’s relationship was like while at Oklahoma State as two Canadians and he simply replied, “When we first came here we made it a priority of ours that we make it to the next level.” and now as we see them both compete to be drafted into the NFL its clear that they and the other Canadians manifested their dreams into a reality. Although its not just them with those dreams of playing at the highest level of football.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of programs that offer football in Canada. From 6 year olds playing Tyke football to University athletes playing U-Sports a lot of them share the same goal of playing professionally but up until now there hasn’t been a lot of people for these football players to look up to. The Canadians that were featured in the NFL in past years were linemen and special teams players for the most part and its often hard for younger athletes to appreciate and look up to players at those positions mostly because of the marketing around quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive backs. Now where we see 4 skill position players enter one NFL Draft coming from Canada there should be more younger eyes on the game of football in Canada, which for Benjamin St Juste is a goal, “It is an honour to be in this position and in this position that I’m in (having the NFL platform behind him) I need to shed light on my city (Montreal, Quebec) and give back to the community.” he said, “I need to give hope and opportunity that I didn’t have when I was growing up. We didn’t have skill players going to the NFL and even division one so I represent everyone from Canada when I play.”
Shedding light on his city of Montreal, Quebec and the country of Canada in general Benjamin St Juste hopes to make the people back home proud when he steps on the field for the first time in 2021 and it won’t be too long after where he will be among the Canadians that he inspires to play in the NFL. After the 2021 NFL Draft will be the 2022 NFL Draft which could feature the same amount, if not more Canadians with star potential players like Patrice Rene of Rutgers, John Metchie from Alabama, Chase Brown of Illinois, Luiji Vilain at Wake Forest and both Jonathan Sutherland and Jesse Luke from Penn State all headline players moving into the next year. With all eyes on Canada for the next few years for both NFL and NCAA talent, 2021 NFL Draft prospect Joshua Palmer of Brampton, Ontario backs up all the reports stating, “there is a lot more talent where we come from.”
Where do the Canadians size up to Americans in the NFL Draft?
In this year’s NFL Draft, there are several great players. Really showcasing that it is a deep draft for both sides of the ball, but of all drafts this is the deepest for Canadian talent. Not just the six projected to be drafted, but others as well. There is Daniel Joseph, defensive lineman out of North Carolina State, Virginia receiver Terrell Jana, Central Michigan defensive line star Mohamed Diallo and Deshawn Stevens of Maine University all in this year’s NFL Draft class alongside U-Sports athletes Alain Cimankinda, Logan Bandy, Nelson Lokombo and Dylan St. Pierre who all have a chance at an NFL camp invite. One thing about the Canadians though, in this year’s draft there is absolutely no difference between them and the Americans in their positions.
At his Pro Day on Thursday Chuba Hubbard ran an unofficial 4.36 40 yard dash, making him unofficially the fastest running back in this year’s NFL Draft ahead of Pooka Williams of Kansas who ran a 4.38. The best running back in the draft, Travis Etienne from Clemson clocked in at 4.45. Hubbard’s teammate Ogbongbemiga, at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds ran a 4.66 40 yard dash, 4.28 shuttle and hit 24 reps at 225 pounds for the bench press. As a linebacker he is automatically sized up to Micah Parsons who ran a 4.39 at the Penn State Pro Day last week, though Amen Ogbongbemiga can be matched more with a defensive end or edge rusher considering all of the different roles he played with OSU in University.
Along with Hubbard and Ogbongbemiga of Oklahoma State, Joshua Palmer, a 6-foot-2, 210 pound receiver of Brampton, Ontario clocked in at 4.51 for Tennessee’s pro day. He also had a vertical jump of 34 inches, broad jump of 10.4 feet and ran a 4.25 second 3 cone drill. Palmer is a vertical threat so you can size him up to Julio Jones or Davante Adams who he studies film of. In their Pro Days and combines Jones ran a 4.39 40 yard dash and jumped a 38.5 inch vertical while Adams ran a 4.56 40 yard dash and jumped a 39.5 inch vertical.
This 2021 NFL Draft class tends to headline a lot of offensive super stars but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some skilled defensive players to pair with Amen Ogbongbemiga or any offensive linemen worthy enough to talk about. Both Alaric Jackson and Benjamin St Juste are perfect examples of under the radar talent in this year’s draft class. In a year where receivers, quarterbacks and running backs are getting a lot of attention, there are very deep talents at both offensive linemen and defensive back, making enough room for some hidden gems like the two Canadians mentioned. Two of the top defensive backs, Shaun Wade of Ohio State and Patrick Surtain from Alabama have been creating a lot of noise in the media but putting Wade’s 4.5 speed (unofficial, didn’t run at pro day) and Patrick Surtain’s 4.46 40 yard dash up against Benjamin St Juste’s 4.51 40, and 3.96 shuttle they don’t look too eye opening anymore, or maybe St Juste is better than people expect him to be. Jackson, as a big man clocked in at 5.38 for his 40 yard dash, jumped a 25 inch vertical and hit 20 reps of 225 pounds for the bench press. He said after the pro day, “I showed NFL scouts that I can move pretty well for my size.”
2021 NFL Draft full of Canadian talent; future of Canadian football “extremely bright”
For years there has been a misconception that Canadian athletes aren’t as good as American athletes in many sports. It has seemed like Canada is only good for hockey for a number of years but in 2021 only 43% of the NHL is Canadian, so is hockey really Canada’s sport? Sure Canada has been a hotbed for hockey for years and will always be a large part of the country’s history and athletics, though as we continue to move forward into the future, sports like football and basketball are becoming for recognized in Canada internationally. Something that can continue that growth and bust the myth that Canada doesn’t have better athletes than America is PurpleShift.
PurpleShift is a fitness app founded by Ottawa Redblacks American linebacker Micah Awe, aiming to create an equal opportunity for athletes across the globe to showcase their athletic ability. The app features many different sporting activities for athletes to measure their talents to their favourite professional athletes, of all the activities the most popular have been both the push ups and the 40 yard dash.
When you download the PurpleShift app or go on their website purpleshiftlive.com you will be able to create an account, similar to a social media profile and after submitting videos of you doing the activities given on the app your athletic abilities will be ranked. For example, if you ran the 40 yard dash, the app will time how fast you ran it, giving you your time and your ranking among the other athletes that have ran it. If you filmed yourself participating in the pushup challenge, the app will find out how many pushups you did in a certain time period and like the 40 yard dash it will measure your results up against the other athletes that partook in the challenge.
Although the app may have just come out this year, Awe says this has been a work in progress for many years and just came into fruition during the downtime he had due to the CFL’s cancelations, “This was actually something I came up with a little while ago. I realized when I came up to Canada that there are good players here and there’s that thought that CFL players can’t play with the NFL and that they don’t have the same talent but they do and there’s no better way to show that then to show the proof so I knew I wanted to do something to help give that equal opportunity for players anywhere to showcase their talents.” He says that the only thing that he wasn’t sure about was how he would go through with the idea, “Solomon Elimimian was actually one of the first guys I told about the idea and he thought it was cool but he was wondering how this would work, and that’s when I did more research. When the CFL cancelled the 2020 season that was when I did most of my work and now its been posted for a couple months now.”
Talking about his experience coming to Canada and realizing, like many Americans in the CFL have, that there are really good athletes north of the border Micah Awe talked about his first play in the CFL, “when I was signed by B.C in 2017 I had a good feeling that I knew what the CFL was like. I led the Big 12 with 126 tackles and played a few pre-season games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, breaking Carson Wentz’s ribs on a big hit in the NFL but on my first play in the CFL I got hit hard. It was on special teams, and I was going to be blocked by a big defensive lineman, and he was wearing like number 53 or something, not a good number for a defensive lineman. I could see how big he was, he was fast for his size too and that’s where I realized like these guys are good.” Being able to realize the talent north of the border, Awe has had a great career in the CFL, playing in 35 games over 3 seasons, making 154 total tackles, 1 sack,1 interception and forcing/recovering a total 3 fumbles, but even for him as an American it wasn’t an easy road to professional football and that is where Awe believes he can use his story to help this app succeed in the future. “I was on the D team the first year I ever played football.” Awe said, “In Texas there are so many kids that want to play football that they don’t do cuts, they just add teams so when I went to my first ever football practice and the coaches were making the teams, you could see that the good players were on the left side of the coach and the others were on the right. When it came to my turn I was convinced I was going to the left with all of the other good players but coach put me on the team on the right. I was so surprised and so sad. Even though the coaches were just picking teams with the eye test I was so sad, I was crying on the way home and when my dad asked me what happened and I told him I was on the D team he just laughed.”
“The eye test is real. If you are an athlete out there, go watch the movie “Moneyball” it shows you what the eye test is and what scouts do when it comes to recruiting. They go to camps and events to see who looks more athletic and who looks like a good athlete but a lot of the time the best players at those camps are fighting to get a look, they are fighting for an equal opportunity. How would I know? I was that player.” Micah Awe comments, “If I was a 5 star recruit, heavily scouted by Nick Saban and in the NFL right now I wouldn’t be able to create this app. This app is for people who are in the same situation I was in High School. It is to let every athlete out there showcase their talent to scouts and coaches equally, no matter what you look like or where you’re from.”
For recruiting High School athletes to go next level, the PurpleShift app can be a huge. It gives coaches and scouts accurate results to the standard combine and showcase activities all with a few clicks of a button. In a time where most things are becoming more virtual and working from home is more popular, PurpleShift can be a large part of the future of recruiting. The numbers are at your fingertips, scouts don’t have to travel to showcases, athletes don’t have to spend money to go to camps, it is all on your cell phone and that is why PurpleShift can not only help High School athletes get recognized by Universities at the next level but can also help athletes like Micah Awe who go un-drafted in the NFL and CFL Drafts. Posting your results on PurpleShift can act like your combine if you aren’t invited to the main combine hosted by the NFL or CFL and for scouts at the professional stage, whether that be in the NFL, CFL or the XFL they will be able to see how athletes on PurpleShift rank and measure to other athletes.
When asked about how PurpleShift can have an impact in the recruiting of professional and university sports in the future, Micah Awe, a petroleum engineering major at Texas Tech said, “This can be a perfect alternative for camps and showcases that everyone talk so highly about for recruiting. In 2020 there were next to no camps or showcases for high school athletes that want to go D1 and the only way some athletes were getting recruited if their seasons were cancelled was through workout videos, but what if you could turn those workout videos into a showcase? Well thats pretty much what is set up with PurpleShift, you do your training on a field, do your 40 yard dash, shuttle and all of your combine drills, send them into the app and then once all of your drills have been timed and measured coaches would see them all on PurpleShift, matched up against all of the other athletes that did the drills as well.Doing the camps virtually is something that could help a lot right now with Coronavirus going around but also in the future for families that can’t spend a couple hundred dollars to go to these showcases or even the Canadians that can’t travel, so that’s how PurpleShift can fit in the University recruiting field.”
“As for professional scouting, it can pretty much have the same impact. Just recently we saw the list come out for all of the players invited to the CFL Combine, well PurpleShift is a great platform for the players that didn’t get an invite. Even if you weren’t invited to the combine, it doesn’t mean your chances at a professional career are over. Take part in the combine on your own, go on PurpleShift and film your combine, coaches will see it there and it gives you an alternate opportunity at the official combine or camp.” Awe says.
Since 1997 when Kanata’s Pat Woodcock was signed to play for the Syracuse Orange in the NCAA, there hasn’t been a wide receiver from the Ottawa area to play at the division one. Canada in general has just recently been getting more attention from its skill position players with players like Chase Claypool, Joshua Palmer, John Metchie, Ajou Ajou and Chuba Hubbard all on their respective paths to success but one name that might be one of the biggest ones coming in the future and somebody that can make it to the division one level from Ottawa would be 6-foot-2 receiver Alex Vilain.
Alex Vilain believes he is a major threat to defensive backs all over the globe, not only in Canada and in 2020 he was able to showcase exactly that when he transferred from St. Matthew Catholic High School in Ottawa, Canada to Clearwater Academy International in Florida. He comments, “I’m ready to play at the next level. As soon as I get the opportunity I’ll show everything I have and prove that I am one of the best.” Running pristine routes, faster than many and using his body to win 50/50 balls, in just a couple games south of the border with the Clearwater Knights Vilain showcased small examples of what he can do at the next level and in his words being “one of the best” though it wasn’t just when he went to Florida where he demonstrated all of his skills. Ahead of the 2020 High School Football season spent under Coach Jesse Chinchar for the Clearwater Knights he showed dominance in Ottawa as a part of NCAFA’s North Gloucester Giants and Cumberland Panthers as well as the Saint Matthew Tigers where he was coached by 2020 Brian Kilrea award winner Coach Jean Guillaume.
Growing up, Vilain was extremely exposed to the game of football, having his brother Luiji Vilain playing before him and eventually playing at Michigan, now transferring to Wake Forest at the division one level and then being surrounded by friends that played too it wasn’t an option not to play. When looking back at the playing days in Ottawa, Alex Vilain showed a lot of excitement, highlighting the youth football that he played in the city, “its a big reason why I’m in the position I am right now.” he said, “Playing NCAFA with the NG Giants and then the Panthers was a great introduction and it was when I started going to St. Matts when I realized football could be a future for me.”
At St. Matthew High School in Orleans, just outside of Ottawa Alex Vilain found opportunity within the game of football and noticed that football is something that has kept him out of a lot of real world problems and will continue to keep him out of trouble. “When I went to St. Matts and played for Coach Jean I saw a lot of guys start to go D1 and being from Ottawa its not something that I was used to so now being close to where I can go that route it felt good to know its possible. I started to work harder and get better and football really has kept me out of trouble. I take a lot of my time to perfect my craft on the field and then studying for school separating me from all of the negativity on the streets.” Perfecting his craft, Vilain just recently was able to get an opportunity, like many before him have gotten from St. Matthews, to play at Clearwater Academy International in Clearwater, Florida. Clearwater Academy is a preparatory school in Clearwater, Florida which many of Canadian athletes have gone to over recent years, mostly from the help of Coach Jean Guillaume of Ottawa who has a connection with Coach Jesse Chinchar, the head coach of the Clearwater Knights. When interviewed about Alex Vilain and a group of Canadian players at Clearwater Academy International in January of this year John Garcia Jr. of Sports Illustrated All-American in Tampa Bay, Florida said, “Its not surprising that Chinchar got him. He likes to throw the ball and Vilain is a big target for quarterbacks at CAI, he has the ability to win the 50/50 ball and has good potential if he can grow off of last year.”
Last year with the Clearwater Academy International Knights Vilain suffered a leg injury, keeping him out of a few games but was still able to perform and showcase his talent in Florida against some of the top talent in the country. He says, “It was awesome to be able to have the opportunity to go down south. I needed to fix up my grades and get exposure for football, CAI was the best place for me and it offers me the best chance at a division one opportunity down the road where I can get my schooling paid for.”
Anyone involved with any sports or extracurricular activity knows that having your schooling paid for requires a lot of hard work and talent, Vilain knows that and is working towards achieving that. He has the talent to go division one, right now he is just working harder on and off of the football field to get the recognition he deserves. “He is a great prospect” said John Garcia Jr. of SI All-American, “he’s young now, but you can see how good he can be, he showed what the can do with the ball in his hands, he’s comfortable with it showing his run after catch and if he can polish his routes some more and work on getting open he can be a threat for CAI next year and could get the exposure.” As for exposure thus far, Vilain says he has talked with a couple of schools already but because of the NCAA’s dead period no coaches have been able to visit Clearwater Academy to get the full view of Alex Vilain. Once the dead period ends in the last week of May and the Knights are back to their training camp to prepare for the 2021 High School season expect Vilain and his Canadian receiver partner Dylan Djete to create some buzz in the recruiting world, they both are special talents and with the physicality and speed that Vilain has there’s no backing down that he has the potential to be the next receiver from Ottawa to go division one.
He would be the first one since Pat Woodcock went to Syracuse in the 1990s and Vilain “wants to beat the odds.” he said, “I have been working hard to get the opportunity and I will continue to work hard, if the opportunity comes I hope people aren’t surprised.”
When you think of the game of football, you traditionally think of North America. Canada and the United States are the main countries for football, mostly because they are the only two countries with football being played at every single level. The two countries see football being played from youth football and high school all the way up to University and professional ranks but there are a number of countries out there that also play football, one country for example is England. England is known for its soccer, and always will be like most international countries and continents, though over recent years we have seen a substantial growth in its football. The newest sample for football fans to see for that would be George Reynolds, London born quarterback who, announced last week, signed with the University of Ottawa Gee Gees.
Reynolds had dreams of playing University football in North America since he got serious about the sport at 13 years old and following a few seasons playing with the Great Britain National Team and competing with the NFL Academy in London so being able to officially sign with the Gee Gees was a “dream come true” he said, “Its been a long journey but to have the opportunity with Ottawa is amazing and I’m very thankful for all the help I have gotten from everyone. I can’t wait to go to Ottawa and prove myself.”
The journey may sound easy when summing up his years with the Great Britain National Team and NFL Academy into one sentence but its taken years of hard work for Reynolds to now have the opportunity across the pond with the Ottawa Gee Gees where he will now be coached by U-Sports and CFL great Marcel Bellefeuille and the hard work, the countless late nights training, constantly getting better are all to his advantage. When he talked about his best traits on and off the football field he couldn’t stop talking about the mentality and work ethic he has. One quote from George that really stuck out in my interview with him was the following, “I am ready to prove myself at the next level. I have been preparing for an opportunity like the one I have in Ottawa with coach Marcel for a long time and I believe my work ethic and my mental strength to never give up can help me become a good quarterback and improve the people around me.”
In Ottawa, at the quarterback position Reynolds will be able to help improve the people around him but will also be able to get help to continue his progression as a football player. He adds to his previous comments, “In the Academy (NFL Academy) I had the best coaching available to me, from people that really understood the game of football and it helped me understand the game to the point where I am strong physically and mentally. I can now play quarterback at a high level thanks to all that I have learnt from the coaches I’ve had already but now being able to come to Ottawa I will be able to get coached by some of the best University coaches in Canada like Marcel (Bellefeuille) which is something I am excited about.”
After signing with the Ottawa Gee Gees earlier last week, the England born quarterback has been busy doing calls with a number of media personalities around Canada and the U.S starting with an NFL Films project on George Reynolds, followed by many articles and videos about the news. One thing that he mentioned in a lot of his interviews including the one I had with him was the reason behind his decision with the University of Ottawa. Ottawa wasn’t the only school to offer Reynolds, along with a couple Canadian Universities the Gee Gees were competing with a few NCAA division two schools that offered the quarterback a scholarship as well as a walk on opportunity with the University of West Virginia, a division one program known for recruiting international talent like second team Freshman All-American from a year ago Akheem Mesidor of Ottawa. Reynolds said Ottawa “felt like home” when he made the decision, “There are a lot of schools out there and a lot of great football programs that I could be playing for but when I got the offer from Ottawa I felt a different connection than I did with other schools. The coaches, Marcel and the rest that I talked with understood me and it felt like home. I didn’t want to go to a school where I didn’t belong and after talking with coaches and people from Ottawa, learning about the culture in Ottawa and the football there too I knew that Ottawa was somewhere I wanted to be.”
Reynolds will be flying across seas to play for the OUA’s Ottawa Gee Gees this summer and ahead of him is another 5 years of University Football in Canada where he, has an international student, will be able to prove himself and make his ways to the professional ranks.