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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 9, 2020
It was the first football event outside of the minor leagues the city has seen all year that involved players off of different teams.
And when the dust settled on the University of Alberta Golden Bears Top 120 high-school selection camp on the weekend, it had evolved into more of an Elite 80. But not for a lack of participation.
“Kids want to play and kids want to be coached,” said Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris, who is taking the top talent – following some self-isolation over the next couple weeks and re-cohorting, of course – and moving on to a series of weekend training camps at the Foote Field Dome. “We had 160 kids trying out, but we were a little short on a couple of position groups. We had a bunch of lineman and linebackers, but there were a couple of other positions where there weren’t as many.
“So we decided to go down to 80.”
Those moving on will receive instruction not only from Morris, but also an A-Team cast he assembled to coach the sessions, including his former Edmonton Football Club teammates A.J. Gass, Rick Walters and Tim Prinsen.
“There are some former players of mine at the U of A who are now in the CFL, some former teammates of mine that are coaching in the CFL now,” said Morris, whose name is on the Wall of Honour at Commonwealth Stadium following a 14-year playing career in Edmonton that resulted in three Grey Cup championships. “So it’s quite an experienced and knowledgeable coaching group there.
“The kids who were there learned a lot.”
And no one was complaining about getting back out on the field in a training-camp setting.
“It was fun to do, it’s always good working with high school kids,” said Morris, who would have been in his eighth year running the Bears program had the entire Canada West season not been cancelled due to COVID-19, with the Canadian Football League and high-school seasons following suit. “A lot of them have just so much growth to do and even in a span of two or three days, they showed tremendous improvement.
“What was really nice is we had so many really good players there. Sometimes some of these teams have two or three really good players on them at a certain position that are quite a bit better than the other guys they practise against. So the nice part about this thing is everybody was getting pushed, there was lots of great competition. It was a practice, but it was a practice against people you don’t really know, so it was really beneficial for those kids.”
And while it doesn’t exactly replace a high-school season, what’s coming next is all about making the most of the situation for athletes looking to improve their football acumen, and earn some valuable film at the same time.
“I think this whole year is kind of about that: Make chicken salad out of chicken bleep,” Morris said. “What we’re trying to do here is just do the best we can with the circumstances that have come up.
“Normally, those high-school kids wouldn’t get to be coached by CFL coaches because their football kind of takes place at the same time. So, it’s a really good opportunity and, just think, the guys who sign up for this thing are going to get to work with them for two-and-a-half months.
“So, it should be a really good experience for the kids involved.”
The series of three-day camps kick off on Oct. 16 and run into December, taking place on the field, in the weight-room and in the classroom.
With the fall season cancelled, the sessions are a lifeline for any graduating high-school players looking to carry their football careers to the next level.
“There are only two university programs in Alberta and there are only 27 in the whole country,” Morris pointed out. “So, it’s really competitive to get onto one of those teams. Some of these kids need that film. And even some of the ones we’re looking at, you can look at them more closely and see if they’re guys we think can fit in.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to get film playing against quality opponents, which is sometimes hard to find. If you provide an environment where they are getting good coaching and they’re having a good experience, they’re going to sign up for it right now.
“It’s unfortunate they don’t have high-school seasons, but I’ve said from the beginning one of our mandates is serve the community and see what we can do to further the sport, so we’re just trying to do our part.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020