Canada Cup: a showcase for next level recruiters
Photo credit: James Hajjar
Each July over 300 of the top under-18 football players from across the country compete at the Football Canada Cup.
Each player heads into the event with the dream of not only playing at the next level but possibly making a living playing the game they love.
In the stands are coaches from university, junior and cégep programs alike looking to see how players perform against the best this country has to offer. In addition to fierce competition, players also get a taste of next level preparation, as pre-event training camps mark the first time that the majority of players experience intensive practices, walkthroughs and intensive film sessions.
As displayed on the field, the talent in Canada is getting better in a hurry. Tournament alumni such as Byron Archambault, Andy Fantuz, and Israel Idonije have passed through the process and have gone on to not only excel at the university level but also professionally in the CFL and NFL. Five of the past six CIS Rookie of the Year Award recipients including Laval’s Hugo Richard and current Indianapolis Colts running back Tyler Varga have also played in the event.
Danny Maciocia led the University of Montreal Carabins to their first Vanier Cup title last season and has decades of coaching experience at the university and CFL ranks.
“When we recruit at the university ranks, we are starting to realize more and more that some of these kids are able to step in and play right away because of the way that they’ve developed over the years,” the Carabins head coach said. “Their training regime and their football savvy of what’s required at the position that they compete at has really improved.”
“Football across the country has come a long, long way and they’re starting to have an impact at the skilled positions not only at the university level but also at the CFL level. A lot of the credit should go to the provincial associations and coaches that have invested a lot of time and a lot of effort as well as the resources that are in place that provide the opportunities for these fine young men to establish themselves at these levels and potentially earn a living doing so.”
Long-time Queen’s head coach Pat Sheahan has seen his fair share of Canada Cups and the value the tournament brings to the recruiting process.
“I think the value of it is you get a best against best tournament,” Sheahan said. “You get a very good preview of how these kids are going to survive at the next level when they’re up against older and better athletes.
“It’s a great flushing out of their current status as an athlete and there’s no question that competition makes them better and competing against better athletes, athletes that are as good as them, brings out the best in them. Opportunities like this are rare and I think it’s very, very valuable as university recruiters to identify talent for the following class and in the future.”
Danny Maciocia has a unique perspective on the tournament as he was a coach at the first ever Canada Cup as part of Quebec’s coaching staff in 1995.
Maciocia compared the tournament from when it started until today as like night and day.
“Some of these kids are so well conditioned,” Maciocia explained. “Their level of understanding of the game is light years of where it was in 1995. These kids take care of themselves, there’s a lot of film study. They’re vested in their respective sport and that’s why we’re seeing what we’ve witnessed here the last few years as far as the talent is concerned.”
For McGill head coach, Ron Hilaire in his first year at the helm of one of the top academic schools in Canada with a national reach, the event’s recruiting day is a chance to meet players looking to excel on the field and in the classroom.
“For us at McGill, we have a very strong academic reputation. At an event like the Canada Cup, you get to see the top talent from every province that’s coming up in the next few years. You get to speak to them about academics and what it would take to come to an institution like McGill. For the guys that are graduating in 2016 you get to see where they’re at, in regards to their academic standing and you get a chance to guide them a little bit in terms of their future while they head into their last year of high school, letting them know exactly what it takes to be eligible to come to an institution like McGill.”
As his program is based in Montreal, Hilaire must balance national and provincial recruiting. To add to the complexity, Quebec based players head to cégep after grade 11 where they’ll spend 2-3 years before university.
“At the Canada Cup, you get to build relationships with these young men and also talk to them about what it takes academically to be eligible for the programs they want to pursue in 2 or 3 years when they reach the university level and give them a little bit of guidance. It’s more relationship building and academic guidance for these young kids and letting them know that they are on our radar and we’ll be actively recruiting them once the time comes.”
For smaller university football programs, the tournament helps stretch their recruiting budget dollars by having players from across Canada in one central location competing against one another.
“I think it’s important to see some of the younger talent,” said St-FX head coach Gary Waterman. “Many of the kids (at the Canada Cup) are going into grade 11 or 12. For us, it’s a great opportunity being a school that’s out in Nova Scotia because we don’t always get a chance to see all these kids live. To be in one spot and see many of the top players in the country live is really a good advantage for us.”
“The Canada Cup is a great event because it’s one locale for us to come and do some major work,” coach Waterman added.
For a lot of smaller budget schools from larger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec having 300 plus athletes in one central venue is a big selling feature.
“I think having all the guys is one location is a huge advantage. You come to a place for a week and you essentially get to see the best 300 players across the country,” said one OUA coach. “This event gives us an opportunity, especially the Team Ontario roster to get to see kids from across the province that maybe we don’t get a chance to see during their high school years just because of distance alone.”
“This is great for us as a program and it also gives us some national exposure. Getting out there and meeting kids from Saskatchewan and Alberta and maybe they don’t know much about the university but it gives us the chance to introduce ourselves to them.”
Another former provincial team coach from the OUA enjoyed the authenticity aspect of the event because its gives players a chance to see how coaches act behind the scenes and on the sideline when they are not recruiting athletes.
“Besides helping the kids become better football players, it’s really important for them to see you as a coach and how you go about your business. It’s easy when you’re recruiting to be nice and to tell them everything they want to hear but when they’re on the football field between the lines, they really see what kind of coach you are.”
Another advantage of being a provincial team coach is giving back to the next generation of players, whether or not they ultimately choose your program at the next level.
“Being able to teach them at a young age the best techniques possible is huge. You get to show what kind of quality football coach you are,” Ron Hilaire, a former three-time Team Quebec assistant coach explained. “At that age, they are just like sponges so being able to imprint yourself on their future, gives them the best possible tools to be successful. Even if they ultimately don’t choose your program in a few years time, it’s important that our game grows.”
Another head coach has incorporated the Canada Cup into his annual recruiting plan.
“As a CIS head coach, this is my biggest recruiting event of the year. This is the event that’s always circled on our calendar. It’s the best 40 kids from each province. The kids that are here at the Canada Cup are the best kids in their respective provinces so having the opportunity to be a CIS coach and have all these kids in one location. We can evaluate them going head-to-head in one spot; you can’t put a price tag on something like that. It’s the core of our recruiting right now.”
This year’s Canada Cup crop are also being evaluated to represent their country at the International Bowl in Texas. The Junior National Team coaching staff was on-hand in St-Jean to select this year’s Canada Cup U-18 squad for the International Bowl. The Canada-U.S. event will be used to select the 2016 Junior National Team (read more about the process here).
As a player, Ron Hilaire understands the impact that playing internationally can have on Canadians in the eyes of NCAA recruiters. After having participated in three NFL Global Junior Championships, he was recruited to play at the University of Buffalo.
“When I was a young player I able to be a part of three championships which definitely got me exposed to what American football is all about and where we stacked up against U.S. competition,” Hilaire said. “I got coaches attention when I was down there and ultimately it resulted in me getting an offer to go to the University of Buffalo.”
As a coach, Hilaire’s represented his country twice more on Canada’s U-18 coaching staff at the International Bowl.
“I think the International Bowl is a great opportunity for these young kids to go down, show their talent and show what their country’s all about. Ultimately if they get the opportunity to have a great showing, it’s definitely going to open some recruiters eyes and give them a chance to get recruited to go play some university football down south.”
Within this year’s Canada Cup crop might lie the next CIS Rookie of the Year, Hec Crighton Award winner, first overall CFL draft pick or Canadian NFL hopeful just waiting to be discovered. Canada’s U-18 International Bowl roster will be unveiled in the coming weeks so stay tuned.
This post is also available in: French