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Canada’s spectacular fumbles at schooling top football prospects

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The field of elite high school programs has been cut, dimming the chances of U.S. college scholarships and a future in the game for top players

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When the IMG Academy Ascenders of Bradenton, Fla., beat the West Toronto Prep Golden Warriors by the head-turning score of 96-0 on Nov. 4, 2022, social media analysis of that gaudy gridiron debacle focused on two themes.

First, the sports world simply had to see a West Toronto Prep clash with Bishop Sycamore, the ragtag Ohio team that fell 58-0 to IMG in a game broadcast live on ESPN a year earlier. And second, the Golden Warriors’ sad-sack performance, which was mercifully cut short by a forfeiture at halftime, did not accurately portray the state of high school football in Canada, and wasn’t that a shame.

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The former was sarcastic folly, given the spectacular and public unravelling of Bishop Sycamore’s program almost immediately after its loss to IMG. The latter was a more valid take, since West Toronto Prep, like Bishop Sycamore, was a privately run football program, and not a school at all.

Some Warriors players had attended classes at Silverthorn Collegiate in Toronto in past years, but by 2022, the football program was not affiliated with that public school, according to a Silverthorn spokesperson.

What’s more, the Warriors played four-down football against teams from U.S.-based prep schools, which is to say private institutions, while most Canadian high school teams play the three-down game against other public school competition.

Tweets referencing West Toronto Prep and the Golden Warriors' disastrous game against the IMG Academy Ascenders on Nov. 4, 2022.
Tweets referencing West Toronto Prep and the Golden Warriors’ disastrous game against the IMG Academy Ascenders on Nov. 4, 2022.

More than a year later, evidence of West Toronto Prep’s incompetence is, of course, still readily available on YouTube. Should you have the stomach for it, you can watch the Ascenders score nine offensive touchdowns, three defensive TDs, another off a blocked punt and three safeties, while the Warriors repeatedly struggled to complete a shotgun snap. It was 57-0 after one 12-minute quarter of running time.

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Somehow, the play-by-play announcer on the livestream production managed to maintain enthusiasm through five more touchdowns and two safeties in the second quarter, while the Warriors did no such thing. The gross mismatch was played on the luxurious IMG Academy campus in Bradenton, which is also home to elite programs in golf, soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, athletics and volleyball. Annual tuition for the football program runs as high as US$85,000, and when the academy was sold in late June, it went to a Hong Kong-based company for $1.25 billion.

The Ascenders National team, highest ranked of the four football squads on campus, is a perennial top-10 high school program in the U.S., while West Toronto Prep often struggled even to flesh out a full roster and had lost its first five games in 2022, outscored 195-6.

So why was a powerhouse playing a poorhouse? Why did West Toronto Prep also have other big-time U.S. prep schools like St. Frances, McDowell and McCallie on its schedule?

Sadly, for the same reason that Bishop Sycamore gained infamy against IMG.

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“In the world of high school football, the more you win, the harder it is to get games, because nobody wants to play you. So all these really high-end, elite teams were scheduling West Toronto Prep because these teams need guaranteed wins for homecoming games and stuff like that,” said self-described high school football matchmaker Joe Maimone. “That’s what West Toronto Prep was, a guaranteed win for a homecoming game.

“And (the score was) not IMG’s fault. You see all the fumbles in the end zone; IMG was probably gifted 35 points. And you have to remember, two weeks before that, West Toronto Prep lost 61-0 to McDowell and 55-0 to McCallie.”

Oh, they lost plenty. Their record was 1-3 in 2017, 0-9 in 2018 and again in 2019, and 0-6 in 2022. They were outscored by the rather gruesome total of 1,197 to 150. There are no recorded games for them in either 2020 or 2021 as COVID apparently impacted their travel plans.

“What I loved about West Toronto Prep is they feared nobody,” continued Maimone. “They said, ‘We don’t care, we just want to play the game we love.’ That’s what I respected about them. They were playing the game they love and they have great memories. Not winning memories, but memories of travelling all over America.

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“Who gets to go to Bradenton and Chattanooga and Baltimore and Erie? They were road warriors and that’s awesome. Most kids are there because they have no other option. That’s why I like their mission. It’s like Last Chance High.”

Tweets referencing West Toronto Prep and the Golden Warriors' disastrous game against the IMG Academy Ascenders on Nov. 4, 2022.

Maimone, it must be pointed out, played a role in setting up the infamous Aug. 29, 2021 game between Bishop Sycamore and IMG through his matchmaking website, prepgridironlogistics.com, which he said he runs as a free service. He also said West Toronto Prep’s trip to Florida was probably subsidized by their hosts. IMG officials did not respond to a request for an interview.

“IMG most likely provided an all-expenses-paid trip,” said Maimone. “They have their own hotel on campus. They basically pay for the flight, pick up the team from the airport with their own buses. Three meals a day at the cafeteria. It’s easy.”

It wasn’t easy to move on from a 96-0 drubbing, however. West Toronto Prep apparently ceased operations soon after, and its place in the pantheon of Canadian high school football became a moot point. There was little discernible fallout, unlike the Bishop Sycamore scenario, which prompted widespread outrage, the firing of head coach Roy Johnson, an inquiry and report commissioned by the governor of Ohio, a tell-all book entitled Friday Night Lies, and a documentary, BS High, which essentially stars Johnson while laying bare the football program’s many failures, including a litany of lawsuits faced by the seemingly remorseless former head coach for alleged fraudulent activities.

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West Toronto Prep simply disappeared from view. There have been no new posts to its social media platforms, and the website has been shut down. Head coach O’Neil Wilson and assistant head coach Dwayne Mundle have not made any public statements about the status of the program, nor have they responded to repeated interview requests from Postmedia.

Attempts to reach several Golden Warriors players have also been unsuccessful.

Those players were left to piece together broken football dreams wherever they could, and there was one less option for them when Canada Prep of St. Catharines, Ont., shut down in the spring of 2023. Head coach Andre Clarke said in November that the program had to close when its education provider, Royal Imperial Collegiate of Canada, went “on hiatus” in May.

Tweets referencing West Toronto Prep and the Golden Warriors' disastrous game against the IMG Academy Ascenders on Nov. 4, 2022.
Tweets referencing West Toronto Prep sometime after it ceased operations.

However, RICC principal Patrick Fife said in October that he made the decision to end the school’s affiliation with Canada Prep in March. That came three months after an incident involving six Canada Prep players at a leased house where they lived, often unsupervised, during the school year. It was alleged that four senior players assaulted two younger members of the program and charges were laid. The incident prompted some parents to pull their kids from the program.

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“I once made a comment in a staff meeting comparing Canada Prep to Jurassic Park,” Fife wrote in an email to Postmedia in October. “One character in that movie said that the scientists were too preoccupied with whether or not they could (clone dinosaurs) that they never stopped to think if they should. And Canada Prep was the same. Each year, they thought only about: can we get a minimal 30 people to fill a roster? Not whether or not they should go through with it. Not whether or not the program would serve all 30 of those players in the way that they promised or advertised. Not whether or not they had all of the necessary resources and personnel to be responsible for those 30 players — on a daily basis — living here, eating here, training here, being coached here, travelling from home to school and back, being supervised and ‘parented’ and looked after during illness and injury, etc. And eventually it became far too obvious that the correct answer was that they could, but they SHOULD NOT.

“Like Jurassic Park, the intention was good, but the negative consequences were unintended and, for some, disastrous. The task of professionally and adequately providing all of the basic necessities was far larger in scope and far more dedicated in execution than they ever came to realize and understand, or would have been capable of pulling off.”

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Fife had been instrumental in launching Canada Prep in 2014 with its original head coach, Geoff McArthur. Clarke was an assistant coach then and by 2019 he became director of football operations and head coach.

Clarke said he is proud of the program’s achievements and, indeed, Canada Prep can lay claim to alumni such as Brady Oliveira and Brendan O’Leary-Orange in the Canadian Football League and Neville Gallimore in the National Football League, while several others went on to play for U Sports and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams.

Brady Oliveira of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers makes the first down in an October 2023 game against the Edmonton Elks.
Canada Prep alumnus Brady Oliveira of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers runs for the first down against the Edmonton Elks in Winnipeg on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by John Woods/The Canadian Press

“When you look at all these kids who came through the program and are in the CFL, it was probably one of the most beneficial programs of its time when it came in,” said Clarke. “A lot of kids came out of this program. I don’t judge things by wins and losses. It’s not about our record. It’s about how many kids we put in university, how many guys we have playing pro today. That’s what matters. There are a lot of positive stories.”

The exits of West Toronto Prep and Canada Prep left Mississauga-based Football North as the only program of its kind operating in the country, a geographical posit that is both accurate and wholly misleading. It infers breadth and reach, but the fledgling prep football industry has never expanded beyond Ontario.

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The idea of building a team of Canadian high schoolers to play American football against the best prep programs in the eastern U.S. was first tried in 2012. The Niagara Football Academy was the brainchild of Patricia Levasseur, who wanted her quarterback son Matthew to play American rules against U.S. teams, but train at home rather than in California where he had been coached by noted quarterback guru Steve Clarkson.

Her academy lasted one year before devolving into a hornet’s nest of accusations and unpaid bills, lawsuits and countersuits.

Canada Prep rose from the ashes of that failed venture, led by McArthur, a former University of California Berkeley wide receiver who had been working with Clarkson in California and moved to Ontario to run the Niagara program. McArthur, now on the coaching staff of a U.S. prep school, did not respond to a Postmedia request for an interview.

Former Canada Prep and Football North assistant coach Riley Herechuk attempted to launch a new program in Pickering, Ont., under the branding of True North Sports Academy. In early January, Herechuk said that project won’t go ahead.

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“Unfortunately, in the final hour, the Durham District School Board has decided not to move forward with our program,” Herechuk said in a text message to Postmedia. “Not sure what exactly happened within the board, but after months of very encouraging discussions, it was terminated without much explanation.”

The board’s communications department did not respond to a call from Postmedia. Herechuk said he might look at other jurisdictions.

“Potentially. There’s a lot of steps to the process. I will likely reach out to other school boards or private schools to see if there are any other options.”

Herechuk said he believes there is a need for a well-financed, well-run operation on the east side of Toronto, since the Pickering region incorporates about 700,000 people but is served by just four high schools offering football.

“I really believe the talent levels in Canada are higher than they have ever been for high school football but, unfortunately, the overall product is still behind and the opportunity to play, especially in Ontario, has dwindled.”

He said he hopes prep-style football programs can follow basketball’s lead.

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“I look at what basketball has done in Canada. Again, talent is at an all-time high but opportunity is also at an all-time high right now. Part of that is because a lot of basketball prep programs said let’s just make a prep league in Canada. We can still venture to the States and play some teams, but there are enough good prep programs up here that we can play amongst ourselves and save some travel costs, but also elevate the Canadian game as a whole.”

Formation of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association allowed U.S. college scouts to see several players in a short period of time, while American football scouts have no such luxury up north.

Prep-style programs are a foreign concept in western Canada, where the more traditional high school game dominates the landscape.

Chubba Hubbard of the Carolina Panthers is tackled during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 7, 2024.
Chuba Hubbard of the Carolina Panthers — and an alumnus of Bev Facey Community High School in Sherwood Park, Alta. — is tackled during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on Jan. 7, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

“We don’t begrudge anyone from trying to make a living off the creation of Canadian prep football programs, but we get concerned with these programs and other ‘elite’ advertised programs that cost a lot of money for the parents,” said Tim Enger, executive director of Football Alberta. “Our advice to parents has always been that you should never have to pay extra to see if your child is worthy of a scholarship or opportunity at the post-secondary level.”

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He pointed out that Chuba Hubbard came out of Bev Facey Community High School in Sherwood Park, Alta., and both Deane Leonard and Amen Ogbongbemiga emerged from Calgary’s Notre Dame High School to earn Division 1 scholarships and NFL jobs. Many other Alberta high schoolers earn U Sports scholarships and land CFL roster spots.

“To invest tens of thousands of dollars that could go to university tuition on prep schools or otherwise while chasing the big-time football dream is a ‘buyer beware’ situation that has bitten more than a few families hard,” said Enger. “Your kid is your kid. His talent level won’t get any better anywhere else. Alberta high school football creates elite football players all the time, and if he’s of the calibre that colleges are looking for, they will find him.”

That is not always the case, according to TSN broadcaster and former high school head coach Farhan Lalji, whose son Lukas, a promising quarterback, plays ball in Lynden, Wash. Lalji said recruitment isn’t as simple as sending your high school video highlights to an American college coach. Proximity and connections are significant factors.

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“If you want to play Division 1 football — and this is a hard thing for me to say, because I coached for 30-plus years and I hated the thought of losing kids to prep schools — there is simply no doubt that if you go to those schools, your chances to play Division 1 football increase,” said Lalji.

In 2017, New West Hyacks head coach Farhan Lalji celebrates with his team during a game against the Terry Fox Ravens during the B.C. High School AAA Football Championships in Vancouver, B.C.
Farhan Lalji, then head coach of the New West Hyacks, celebrates with his team in 2017 after they scored a touchdown on the final play during the B.C. High School AAA Football Championships in Vancouver. Now a TSN broadcaster, Lalji says, “In Canada we don’t value school sports enough.” Photo by Richard Lam/Postmedia News

When he was coaching at New Westminster Secondary School, Lalji made constant efforts to network with U.S. college coaches. He wanted to ensure that if he had players who were good enough to be at a Power Five or Group of Five school, he could aid in their recruitment and they would never feel the need to leave for an American or Eastern Canadian prep program.

But not all high schools or coaches are inclined to provide the necessary resources or work on those connections.

“In Canada, we don’t value school sports enough,” said Lalji. “We’re driving kids to the private sector and we shouldn’t be.”

Private schools are in business to make a profit, and tuition fees that typically run between $10,000 and $20,000 annually often comprise the major portion of their revenues. That can influence a decision to onboard players who have little chance of being recruited by an NCAA school.

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“The exception I take is you’re selling parents on the dream even though you know their kid is beyond a long shot,” said former CFL receiver and U Sports coach Kamau Peterson, who trains high-performance athletes in Toronto. “A lot of kids on these teams have no business paying this money to pretend they’re prospects.”

If you’re that special, you shouldn’t be paying $20,000 to go anywhere.

Kamau Peterson, former CFL receiver

He was looking into prep programs as a potential destination for his teenaged son, so he knew about West Toronto Prep long before it hit the headlines. As soon as Peterson discovered the program wasn’t affiliated with a bricks-and-mortar academic institution, he was no longer interested. He has counselled other parents through the process.

“There is not a great understanding of how many tremendous athletes there are (in the U.S.) who are your age, your speed, your height, your weight, who you’re going to have to outdo. Just playing a season against some Buffalo schools or Ohio schools isn’t necessarily going to do it. You’re going to have to be special. And if you’re that special, you shouldn’t be paying $20,000 to go anywhere.

“If you’re a dominant player, these schools are designed to come and get you to help their profile. That’s my first red flag to parents. If you’re that good, they’re going to want you, it’s not going to have to be the other way around,” said Peterson.

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“You’ve got a ton of athletes with talent, and they’re close enough to the border, they can smell it, the opportunity to go down south. But there’s not a lot of guidance for them and their parents in terms of what’s real and what’s not. Unfortunately, some kids have been taken advantage of here. I’m trying to help with that.”

***

Clarkson Football North quarterback Winston Clarkson, at weight training in Mississauga, Ont., in January 2024.
QB Winston Chapman says the Football North program in Mississauga, Ont., stood out because it allowed him to stay in Canada while honing his skills — and speed — for the American game. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Football North: A kid’s best path in Canada to a future in the game

Football North is the gold standard, the prep football program that stood apart from its Canadian competitors, and now stands alone.

While programs at Niagara Football Academy, Canada Prep, Royal Imperial Collegiate of Canada and West Toronto Prep came and went, largely with good intentions and mixed results, Football North continues to deliver public high school academics in concert with four-down football against nationally ranked prep schools in the United States.

Founded by former Acadia University teammates Larry Jusdanis and Lee Barette in 2016, Football North is widely considered the most successful route to scholarships at U Sports schools in Canada and National Collegiate Athletic Association institutions in the U.S.

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Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga is home base for academics, practice and off-season training. Longtime CFL head coach Adam Rita lends his talents to the mix as assistant head coach.

While a companion program established in Nepean, Ont., St. Joe’s Football North, lasted only a couple of seasons, Clarkson North keeps chugging along.

“It is a legitimate enterprise,” said TSN broadcaster and former high school head coach Farhan Lalji. “Larry Jusdanis is as good as it gets in this country as a coach. They have a track record. He’s got connections in the U.S., so they can schedule appropriately. They’re playing really good U.S. competition, so if I’m a Division 1 coach, I can see apples to apples. If a kid goes to one of the prep schools in the U.S., they can be recruited apples to apples.

“If you’re a quarterback, the chances of getting a Division 1 scholarship directly out of a Canadian school, outside of Football North, are nil.”

Clarkson Football North QB Winston Chapman sprints for a first down during a game.
Clarkson Football North quarterback Winston Chapman of Regina, Sask., sprints for a first down during a game.

That was the conclusion reached by quarterback Winston Chapman, who left his Regina home in April 2022 as a 15-year-old to join Football North. He believed that Jusdanis, a former CFL quarterback himself, offered a development path not available to Chapman if he stayed on as the starter for the Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School Marauders.

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“When I was doing the research, seeing that Quincy Vaughn and Callum Wither had previously gone to Football North and are at Division 1 schools, that was a pretty big selling point for me,” said Chapman, who also considered some U.S. prep schools. “Nothing else really stood out the way Football North did.”

Vaughn had been a backup QB at the University of North Dakota, while Wither red-shirted at Ohio University behind another outstanding Canadian pivot, Kurtis Rourke.

At age 10, Chapman started a podcast and secured a star-studded lineup of guests, including current and former CFLers Michael Reilly, Matt Dunigan, Trevor Harris, Khari Jones and Angus Reid. His aim was to inform his audience while gleaning important information about future careers in football, both as a player and as a coach.

“One of the things that came up when I was talking to them is, if you want to get to the next level as a football player, you have to play the 11-man game and you have to play the higher speed down in the States,” said Chapman. “So for me, it was only a matter of time before making that decision. Football North really stood out to me because it allowed me to stay in Canada, and I really loved the coaching staff and the team atmosphere. I’m really loving it here in Mississauga.”

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Football North’s website lists four alumni playing in the CFL, more than 40 who have played at NCAA schools and over 100 who have gone to U Sports institutions. That’s not a bad track record for seven years of existence.

While Jusdanis and a team of 10 coaches handle the football side — about 80 players fill out the rosters of freshman, junior varsity and varsity squads each year — the academics are administered by the teaching staff at Clarkson. Education is the top priority, according to Jusdanis.

Cornerback Jorel Sahay spots linebacker Shane Keyes Wilson during a workout at Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in January 2024.
Clarkson Football North cornerback Jorel Sahay spots linebacker Shane Keyes Wilson during a workout at Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-January 2024. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

“We have a real school. I think that’s important for everybody to understand. There’s bricks and mortar and it’s real. Real teachers. Real principal. As a parent, that’s what I want for my kids, right. That’s important.

“They’re regular students like any other school in North America. That’s one of the reasons it works. Great coaches, great teachers, they put a lot of effort into it. They do study hall with the kids. Tutoring. So much for those kids to make it work. Our staff is awesome, they do a great job supporting the kids, not just through football but life. And it’s a year-round program.”

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With a competitive reputation to uphold against top U.S. prep schools such as St. Ignatius in Ohio, Football North must be discerning when it comes to new recruits. Chapman said he led all high school quarterbacks in Saskatchewan in all statistical categories at the time he sent his tape to Jusdanis. That’s the desired pedigree.

“Which is not to say every kid who goes to Football North is a Division 1 player, but they have to be good enough to play for him against those high schools,” said Lalji. “Whereas that West Toronto nonsense, which embarrassed the entire country, they were taking money from kids who were never going to play U Sports, never mind Division 1.

“If you go to Football North, at the very least they will have evaluated you enough to see you are going to at least play U Sports out of there. But you’ve got to be good enough to compete for Larry against that schedule. They play St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. That is as good a program as there is in the country. They play IMG’s top team, not the second or third team.”

Football North beat the St. Frances Academy regional team 20-14 on Nov. 30 to win the inaugural East Coast Power Prep conference championship title. Football North was a founding member of the eight-team conference and the only Canadian entrant. At season’s end, Chapman was one of 12 Football North players named to the conference all-star team, while Brett Miller was honoured as lineman of the year.

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Football North went 3-3 this season and has compiled a 24-38 record since the program’s inception in 2016, playing a steady diet of teams from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Florida.

Jusdanis said they have been blessed with above-average talent at quarterback, but do not have the team-wide depth to beat the best U.S. teams consistently. “To compete against (the top teams from) St. Frances and IMG, one through 22, we don’t have that speed. We may have three or four guys, we don’t have 22. Speed is the key to it all.”

With the conference title wrapped up, the final big event of the year was national signing day on Dec. 20 and Football North saw four veteran players commit to Division 1 schools: OL Jackson Bellamy (University of Buffalo), OL Everett Small (Eastern Michigan), OL Noah Stanley (Maine) and WR Ronan Johansson (Penn).

“It’s a program of excellence, not a program of average,” said Jusdanis. “And it’s not for everybody, either. We tell everybody that. The lure is to make yourself a better player and person. Whatever happens after that, happens. Learn how to work. Learn the process and give yourself a chance. You’ve got to seize that opportunity.”

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There is a significant opportunity cost, but Jusdanis wouldn’t specify. “I call it the poor man’s IMG, that’s the model you want to follow, to an extent.

“When I compare it to even St. Frances or IMG, it’s a fraction of the cost. It’s an investment. When you think about what they get — private coaching positionally, training, speed and lifting, school, study hall and extra support from teachers — it’s a bargain.”

Clarkson Football North offensive lineman Brett Miller works out at Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-January 2024.
Clarkson Football North offensive lineman Brett Miller works out at Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-January 2024. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Done right, prep football programs can contribute to a heightening of excellence all the way up the chain. Football North grads who join U Sports schools arrive ready for college ball, because they have lived, studied, trained, travelled and played in a serious, preparatory environment.

Matteo Kucinic is one of three Football North grads who came back to the program as coaches. An offensive lineman, he was one of the founding players in 2016, and played at the University of Guelph before concussions ended his career.

“I noticed my progress and maturity developed so much quicker because you have to,” he said. “In my opinion, if you love something enough, you make sacrifices to make it work, and Football North is one of those. If I could redo my three years, I would redo them in a heartbeat and change not a single thing.”

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Jusdanis is as proud of Kucinic as he is of every player who earns a Division 1 scholarship.

“We believe there is something powerful in every player, so we try to put them in every position possible to succeed,” said Jusdanis. “Three graduates have come back to the program as coaches after U Sports careers. We have alumni in the CFL, we have alumni who are likely going to be in the NFL next year. Those are great success stories. A kid getting a great job after playing U Sports is just as good.”

Football North passing game coordinator Edgar Garcia, right, works with a group of players at Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-January 2024.
Football North passing game coordinator Edgar Garcia, right, works with a group of players during a weight training session at Clarkson Secondary School. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

***

A master recruiter comes to Canada

Brandon Collier’s tireless search for undiscovered football talent, which has taken him to Senegal, Gambia, Australia and 25 European countries, is apparently coming to Canada as early as this year.

He said his company, Premier Prospects International (PPI) Recruits, plans to stage skills camps in Vancouver, Winnipeg and other CFL cities, hoping to attract athletes with the potential and desire to play in the National Collegiate Athletics Association in the U.S.

Collier, a former defensive lineman, launched the recruiting company eight years ago after a knee injury ended his playing career. He starred at the University of Massachusetts, got a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Eagles, played 10 games in 2012 with the Blue Bombers, and finished up with stops in Austria and Germany.

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With time on his hands and a wealth of knowledge gleaned from playing professionally on two continents, he jumped into recruitment and said his company has helped 110 players land NCAA scholarships. In addition to hosting talent identification camps, PPI Recruits takes elite prospects on tours of Division 1 schools each summer. This year, 200 kids from 21 countries paid PPI Recruits to visit with NCAA programs.

“We are strictly about giving kids an opportunity, wherever you may be,” Collier said in early January. “We’re going to try to do something in Canada this year as well, do some camps, try to find some guys who are getting slept on, overlooked, because there are a lot of them out there. They just need somebody they can trust to put their name on the line for them.”

Brandon Collier of Premier Prospects International (PPI) Recruits speaks to aspiring players in Gambia during a 2023 skills camp.
Brandon Collier of PPI Recruits speaks to aspiring football players in Gambia during a 2023 skills camp.

In just eight years at the helm of PPI Recruits, Collier has built a sterling reputation for finding world-class athletes and delivering on his promises to get them jobs. The company celebrated on national signing day in December as 13 of their players — nine from Germany and one each from Senegal, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.S. — committed to NCAA schools.

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Their international player pipeline should get a boost from the recent launch of a non-profit organization, PPI Dreamchasers Foundation. Collier said donations to the organization will fund recruitment and scouting trips to Africa, which has become the main focus of his efforts.

“That’s where I hope the foundation helps out, that we get the funding to travel the world and go to some of these villages and find some of these top athletes to grow the game of football. I’m excited about the level of talent that’s out there. If we get the right people to donate, the game of football will never be the same.”

***

How to level up in football

Former defensive lineman Tim Burris could have used a road map two decades ago when he was trying to navigate what can be a complicated recruiting process.

The obstacles he encountered and lessons he learned en route to a fine playing career at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax convinced him that, even 20 years later, high school kids likely have more questions than answers about their own recruitment path. So he wrote and self-published Signed, a 150-page guide for players in Grades 9 to 12 who want to play football at the next level.

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“It’s my passion to help. I wrote the book because the recruiting process in Canada is very grey,” said Burris, who operates Ironwill Football high-performance camps in Calgary. “My email is flooded with parents asking what they need to do, how do they get (their son) a Division 1 scholarship. A lot of people don’t know the route or the opportunities available. There have been a lot of casualties; talented players who have no clue what to do to get to the next level.”

Division 1 schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are not the only worthy destination, of course. Burris also plots plans of action for kids who may be more interested in playing U Sports, CEGEP in Quebec, junior or prep school ball in Canada and the U.S.

“If you’re a football player, especially a high school football player, you have the right to know what’s available and how to achieve that goal regardless of your skill level,” he said. “It’s a self-help book. It’s going to lead you where you need to go. It tells you what you need to be doing month to month.”

Chapter Four, The Blueprint Checklist, lays out a timeline and descriptions of the personal, academic and research tasks for Grades 9 through 12 that Burris believes will aid in a player’s recruitment.

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Throughout the book, he offers insights on topics such as selecting the best method for assembling a highlight video, the benefits of playing on provincial and national teams, and choosing the best summer camps, combines and showcases to attend.

The book came out in May 2023 and is available on amazon.ca at $7.99 for the Kindle version and $20.50 in paperback.

dbarnes@postmedia.com

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