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Forde: It's time to pay attention to Canadian-born talent

Duane Forde
8/14/2009 2:11:19 PM
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Unless it's hockey or lacrosse, Canadians often behave as though their athletic achievements are meaningless unless they are somehow validated by our neighbours to the south. Although this column focuses on young Canadian players who have generated some media attention south of the border, in no way do I agree with that mindset. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the point of this article is to make sure that these student-athletes are being talked about at least as much in their own country as they are in the U.S.. So, with no further ado, here are five American football storylines that Canadians should be proud of.

#1: Talk About Well-Rounded...

Back in the spring, a little known wide receiver, who was heading into his senior season at a private high school in New Hampshire, made a verbal commitment to accept a scholarship to play football at the University of Florida beginning in 2010. With very limited high school experience, this player is considered very raw. Nonetheless, he garnered the attention of the Gators coaching staff after dominating amongst four and five-star recruits at a football camp on the UF campus in Gainesville, Florida.

Wide receivers may be a dime a dozen in the Sunshine State but this individual is a very special athlete, as he is 6'5", 207 pounds, covers 40 yards in 4.38 seconds, and is athletic enough to have been offered scholarships to several NCAA Division 1 schools...to play basketball. Add to this the fact that this athletic freak is also a tremendous student, whose recruitment came down to a decision between the Florida football factory and the ivy covered walls of Harvard. In fact, he performed so well academically that he accumulated enough credits to graduate from high school a year ahead of schedule, enroll at Florida this fall, and begin fall practice with the Gators last Thursday.

You may be thinking, "That's a nice story but what does it have to do with Canadian football?" Well, the student-athlete in question, Stephen Alli, is Canadian.

Alli spent his first three years of high school at Mayfield Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario before heading to New Hampshire's Proctor Academy a year ago, in hopes of earning a basketball scholarship and eventually becoming a doctor. Once he arrived in New Hampshire, however, the coaches convinced him to play football as well as basketball and, after scoring seven touchdowns on just fifteen receptions, the rest is history. Although he is a very strong student who had easily completed grade 11 in Canada, Alli repeated his junior (grade 11) year at Proctor because the initial plan was for him to spend two years there to maximize his exposure to college scouts. However, due to his advanced academic standing, he was able to graduate a year early and make the move to Florida.

Alli isn't expected to suit up for any games this year, with the option to either red-shirt (i.e. preserve a year of eligibility by practicing but not playing in games) or attend school this year on an academic scholarship and start his football scholarship in 2010, as originally planned.

In this so-called information age, where it seems virtually impossible for a top prospect to slip through the cracks, it's remarkable that the Gators head coach, Urban Meyer, had never even heard of Stephen Alli until he showed up at that camp on June 13th. What's even more remarkable though, is that no one in Canada is talking about this kid...until now.

#2 – He Won't Be Under The Radar For Long

Stephen Alli isn't the only Canadian football player making headlines South of the border while being virtually ignored here at home. Another such player is Mehdi Abdesmad, who attends classes and plays defensive end and linebacker at CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal (in Quebec, students finish high school after grade 11 before attending CÉGEP for two or three years). Les Spartiates du Vieux Montréal program had three of its graduates chosen in the 2009 CFL Draft (Martin Bédard, Jonathan Pierre-Etienne, and Guillaume Allard-Caméus), all of whom stuck with their respective clubs, and is also the alma mater of current CFLers Miguel Robédé, Alain Kashama and Jonathan St. Pierre, as well as former star Eric Lapointe.

The school's latest standout, Abdesmad, was also part of the Canadian team that captured a silver medal at last month's International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Junior Championships, in Canton, Ohio. As a seventeen year-old, he performed well enough to be named a second-team tournament all-star, in an event dominated by players up to two-years his senior.

That said, it was a few days before the tournament began that the 6'6", 240 pound Abdesmad first became a topic of discussion in American football circles. On June 18th, in a preview of the World Junior Championships, ESPN.com recruiting insider Bruce Feldman identified him as an "under the radar recruit". Click on the link below to read his story and view Abdesmad's very impressive highlight video.

<http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=4269942&name=feldman_bruce&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fespn%2fblog%2findex%3fentryID%3d4269942%26name%3dfeldman_bruce> - West Coast Offence?

#3

In British Columbia, high school football is played under American rules, including the use of four downs instead of three. For years, one of the arguments against four down football at the grassroots level in Canada has been that it leads to less passing on offence and, as a result, hinders the development of quarterbacks and receivers. The topic of Canadian QBs will be discussed later but, as for receivers, it's tough to make a case against B.C. developing pass catchers, especially this year.

The two most heavily recruited players in B.C.'s Class of 2010 are wideouts Lemar Durant of Centennial High School and New Westminster's Daniel English. Heading into their senior season, the duo were ranked 46th and 48th respectively on a list of the Top Fifty NCAA prospects in the North Western United States by the respected scout.com website. Durant has already made a verbal commitment to the University of Nevada, while English has drawn the interest of a number of Division 1 programs, including Brigham Young, Hawaii and Colorado State.

British Columbia's high school talent pool is hardly limited to receivers though, as running back Nehemie Kankolongo (already committed verbally to the University of Wyoming) and linemen Sukh
Chung and Matthias Goossen round out what is generally considered to be the top five college football prospects in the province.

#4 – Virginia...Canada's Eleventh Province?

If you've ever wondered what institution is producing the most Canadian football players for NCAA programs, the answer will likely surprise you.

Fork Union Military Academy (commonly known as FUMA) in Fork Union, Virginia has long been recognized as a recruiting hotbed among U.S.
College scouts. More recently, however, the school that has produced over seventy current and former NFLers, including Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde and Eddie George; has become a breeding ground for Canadian talent.

The Canadian pipeline to FUMA has resulted from the efforts of Hamilton-based coach Peter Zonta of Central Canadian Scouting Combines (CCSC). Zonta's program is designed to help develop and create football scholarship opportunities for top prospects, with part of his philosophy being to expose players to high level U.S. competition.

In the spring of 2007, he took his collection of players from across Ontario to Virginia to play an exhibition game against FUMA's post-graduate team. To explain, Fork Union has one team that competes in a regular high school league and another, the post-grad squad, for student-athletes who have already graduated from high school but are looking to either upgrade marks or further develop their football skills before entering college.

In any case, as a result of this game, one of Zonta's players, an offensive lineman from Tillsonburg, Ontario named Austin Pasztor, was recruited to join FUMA's team that fall. Pasztor parlayed that experience into a scholarship to the University of Virginia, where he started eight games as a seventeen year-old true freshman. His success opened the door for five more Canadians to join the FUMA program via Zonta's CCSC in the fall of 2008. One year later, here's a look at how things worked out for them.

• OL Brander Craighead signed with University of Texas-El Paso.

• OC Henry Lorenzen will walk on at Purdue University with the intention of earning a full scholarship in 2010.

• LB/DE Ben D'Aguilar signed with Arkansas but didn't qualify due to transcript issues. He has instead joined Coach Stefan Ptaszek's outstanding recruiting class at McMaster.

• FB Matt Socholotiuk elected to play for Coach Dennis McPhee at Waterloo.

• OT Jacob Ruby will return to FUMA to complete his studies and make the move from tight end to offensive tackle

Two more Canucks, wide receiver/defensive back Nick Naimool and quarterback Richard Quittenton, both from traditional Toronto football power St. Michael's College, are off to Fork Union this fall to complete their last two years of high school.

The trend of top Canadian student-athletes transferring to American high schools or prep schools to complete their high school careers is rapidly growing, particularly among those from Ontario and Quebec. In fact, of the nineteen Canadians who signed 2009 letters of intent with NCAA Division 1 programs, eleven of them had played for at least one year at U.S. high schools or prep schools.

#5 - American-Trained Canadian Quaretrbacks

For those who cling to the hope of seeing Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL in the not too distant future, here's a look at the next wave of prospects. Although most CIS pivots have played under Canadian rules for their entire lives, the CFL's talent evaluators seem most open minded towards those homegrown QBs who have attended U.S. colleges. With that in mind, and in keeping with the theme of this article, here's a look at a group of quarterback hopefuls from the Great White North who have turned a few heads down south.

• Myles Gibbon – After being named the MVP of Quebec's CÉGEP league last year, this Montreal native will compete for the starting quarterback job with the fledgling NCAA Division 1 football program at the University of South Alabama this fall.

• Yan Cyr – Cyr left the CÉGEP ranks a year ago and originally appeared destined to play for an NCAA Division 2 school, Grand Valley State. He ended up at Vermilion Junior College, where he was voted All-Minnesota conference and ended the season ranked as the #51 JUCO quarterback in the U.S. by the scout.com recruiting website.

• Richard Quittenton – As mentioned earlier, Quittenton has transferred from Toronto's St. Michael's College to spend his final two years of high school at the football factory known as Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.

• Jahmari Bennett – Last year's high school athlete of the year in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario, Bennett will play at a prep school in Minnesota this fall in hopes of garnering some U.S. scholarship interest.

• Brandon Bridge – In June, Bridge, also from Mississauga, was named the Overall Grade 11 MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine camp in Detroit, Michigan. He is expected to be heavily recruited throughout his senior year of high school.

• Matt Levasseur – Last year, as a fourteen year-old eighth grader, Levasseur left his home in Niagara Falls, Ontario to play amongst high schoolers at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia. He has already attended numerous camps in California to be tutored by famed quarterback guru Steve Clarkson (a former Saskatchewan Roughrider).

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