Canadian Football League Throws Young Circuit a Plum
(Ron Barry for the Telegraph Journal)
Someday, a player in
the Atlantic Football League will be drafted by a CFL team. Someday, an AFL
player will sign a CFL contract.
Someday, an AFL player will play in the CFL. He may even be on a Grey Cup champion - someday.
Why all the optimism?
AFL commissioner Terry Allen of Charlottetown has informed league members of a major breakthrough in the recognition of the young circuit, which enters its fifth year this fall: for the first time ever, its players will be invited to regional combines hosted by the CFL on an ongoing basis. Allen got the news from Ryan Janzen, the CFL's director of football operations.
The first opportunity comes March 20 in Quebec City. The combine is an audition of sorts for draft-eligible and fifth-year seniors, affording them the opportunity to put their talents on display for CFL scouts.
"This brings respectability to our league," said Allen. "We've only been operating four years. For the CFL to recognize us in this way presents another avenue for young players to take a shot at professional football. Prior to this, these athletes would have to play in the CIS (Canadian University Sport) in order to be drafted. Now, there is another avenue." The spark that ignited CFL interest in the league came courtesy of Marcus Dunphy, a linebacker who starred for Holland College Hurricanes. Toronto Argonauts liked what they saw in the Surrey, P.E.I. native when he attended the combine last year.
"Marcus came close - the Argos took a couple of looks at him,"said Allen, who resides in Charlottetown.
"They tested him … there was serious interest at the time. They did not sign him, but it opened the door - it has given us this opening and we must make sure we use it wisely. I have informed teams that we only want to send players who have a shot, if you will. What we don't want to do is send a busload of players to the combine just for the sake of doing it. The players must be of the calibre they're looking for, and I have relayed that message to the coaches and clubs." The league's founding father, Barry Ogden of Saint John, is gratified by the new development.
"This gives us credibility - it means we're doing things right, as a league," said Ogden, who doubles as president and general manager of the UNBSJ Seawolves. "The CFL has noticed our teams have been close - no big blowouts, a lot of close games. That speaks to the calibre of play. And remember - our players are 18 to 24 years of age. From the beginning we wanted to give young players an opportunity to play football, and play close to home. They are important principles to remember.
"One mother told me her family saved $50,000 by her son attending UNBSJ and playing football there, as opposed to the cost they would have incurred elsewhere. That's why our program at UNBSJ works. And to get CFL recognition, well, that's great for the players. You may see more athletes staying home where we have teams now. It's a big step." The AFL currently has four league members - the Seawolves, Holland College, UNB RedBombers of Fredericton and Dalhousie Tigers of Halifax. Teams play a home-and-home series against each other, leading to the semifinals and championship game. The Red Bombers are reigning champions.
The immediate offshoot of the CFL recognition is obvious to the commissioner - an improved calibre of athlete being attracted to the AFL.
"We already have had players express an interest in our league because this avenue is now available," said Allen. "I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that within the next number of years, a player from the AFL will be drafted by a CFL team. But don't expect it to happen this time - it's a very short window to next month's combine. We will have a serious talk about this opportunity at our AGM in May, and develop a process, going forward. Above all, we want to ensure we keep the nominations at the highest possible level." Ogden agrees.
"Yes, quality over quantity is important," he added, "but it stands to reason that if we continue to progress, it's likely that one of our players will play in the CFL some day. That should be one of the goals of the AFL."
The Seawolves will continue their relationship with Husson University Eagles this year. The teams will meet Sept. 17 in Bangor, Maine, for the Mayor's Cup. In 2011, the Seawolves won 14-13 playing American rules.
BLUE BOYS RETURNING
Illinois College Blue Boys will make a return visit to UNBSJ in 2014 to play the Seawolves in an exhibition game which features a 50/50 split between Canadian and American football rules. In the inaugural match last year, the Blue Boys won 35-0.
HOMECOMING IN WORKS
Another thing Ogden is working on is a Homecoming Weekend at the Tucker Park campus, the centrepiece being a football game with the rival Red Bombers. The workaholic has broached the subject with both alumni and university officials. "We play in UNB Fredericton's homecoming game," said Ogden. "It's a great time up there.
"It would be nice to have a homecoming game at the Saint John campus and make it a community thing.
"It would add to the success the Seawolves, and the league, is having.
"There is no downside to it - it's a win-win for everyone."
Ron Barry is a former managing editor of the Telegraph-Journal. His column appears on Saturday.
Barry Ogden is the AFL's founding father. PHOTO: TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL ARCHIVE
Seawolves will lean
on veterans; Football UNB Saint John will open its AFL
season on Sept. 15 at home against Holland College
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Wed Aug 29 2012
SAINT JOHN - The UNB Saint John Seawolves of the Atlantic Football League opened their training camp at the Canada Games Stadium this weekend to prepare for their home opener against Holland College Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. "I'm looking forward to a good start," said Seawolves' head coach Dave Grandy. "Today it's just about getting out, getting everybody back together again and shaking off summer."
For some players the two-hour practice, which included drills such as pushing a weighted sled 20 yards over and over again, was a rough wake-up call with one player forced to sit out after vomiting. For the next three-weeks the team will meet another 13 times to prepare for the six-game season. "Both of our quarterbacks are back from last year so we will be looking to both Trevor Harrison and Jeremy McAulay to lead our team," Grandy said. Last year the team narrowly lost in the semifinals 23-22 to the University of New Brunswick Red Bombers after finishing the season 3-3. "Having two guys that have experience already at the quarterback position is going to be a huge asset for us going into the season," Grandy said, acknowledging that the team has lost about half of its players from last year. "I think there is some rebuilding that will have to happen," said Bruce Watts, vice-president of the Seawolves, who was in attendance for the opening day. "We need to recruit and retain some of the top high school players from the region. We've lost some of our key veterans like Justin Cavan, a former league MVP. He'll be hard to replace," he said, adding that due to his age he is no longer eligible to play in the league.
Unlike Canadian Inter-university Sport football clubs, such as Mount Allison University, the AFL does not recruit players with scholarships. "One of the big differences between our league and the other CIS leagues is we have local players," Watts said. "All these kids are local talent that have grown up in the southern New Brunswick area. They aren't blessed with scholarships, they're here because they want to go to school, they like playing football and they can combine both and stay in the community that they were born and raised in."
The AFL includes the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Holland College in Charlottetown, Dalhousie University in Halifax and Saint John. To start a team, it costs about $50,000, Watts said. This year the Seawolves will likely spend between $25,000 to $30,000 for buses, field time, and equipment. "It's not an expensive program by any means compared to CIS programs or U.S. programs. All of our coaches and staff are volunteers," he said. Most of the money is raised through local sponsors and players fees.
Admission to games is $5 for adults and $2 for students. Kids under the age of 14 are admitted free of charge, while Fundy Minor Football players who wear their jerseys can also get in for free. "We had about 1,700 fans for our opening game in 2010," Watts said, "We're hoping to get upwards of 1,000 fans for our home opener."
August 25, 2012 CBC News "UNB Saint John football team practice begins"