Football Canada Cup: An important stop on the national recruiting calendar
Photo credit: FotosByFitz / Glenn Dickson
By Kevin Hirschfield, Special to Football Canada
When it comes to gathering all of the country’s best young football players in one spot, there is nothing quite like the U18 Football Canada Cup.
A dream for the players, who have a chance to play for a national title, and a dream for CIS and junior scouts and coaches, who get some serious recruiting done at the week-long annual event.
“I think we’re looking at 80-85 per cent of the best U18 football players in the country,” said University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia. “When you can get all those football players in house, almost 400 players, it’s great for evaluation.”
Accessibility like this doesn’t come around very often for these coaches, so needless to say, they’re well prepared by the time they arrive.
“We probably ID 60-70 kids pre-tournament and then we’re able to identify 10 more on the first day we didn’t know about,” Bertoia added.
The Canada Cup now features a recruiting fair every year, where coaching staffs set up and make their pitch, hoping to create a good first impression.
It’s not hard for UBC head coach Blake Nill to get players turning their heads. He could just start and end his pitch by mentioning the Vanier Cup title his team won last November.
Yet there he was at this year’s fair in Winnipeg as one of the final remaining coaches at the event and talking to kids until the very end.
“Recruiting’s very competitive, every coach has their own style, and approaches it in a unique way,” said Nill. “I just want to explain to kids what to expect if there’s an interest for you at UBC. I just set a base expectation and just give them base knowledge.”
St. Francis Xavier University assistant coach Steve Snyder says one of the main goals of his staff’s trip is to make sure they get new players on their radar.
“We want to ID guys we didn’t know anything about as well as build on existing guys that we talked to on Facebook and saw film (of),” he noted. “If we can get out of that, with making a good first impression, then ID some new guys and talk to them, it’s huge for us.”
“We see them practice, play three times in person, get a chance to meet, watch them behave at the banquet, we get the full deal.”
For a school out east like Snyder’s, there is emphasis in talking to players from places they don’t normally get to.
Snyder says nearly a quarter of St. FX’s roster hails from Alberta, despite being at opposite ends of the country, and they are now trying to create another pipeline of talent coming from Manitoba.
“Sometimes when you’re recruiting kids, it’s nice to meet them in person, early in the process, these guys are juniors in high school. But I meet them in person, if we continue recruiting later on, there’s that first impression that’s already been made.”
York offensive co-ordinator and 2012 Hec Crighton Trophy winner Kyle Quinlan was a player in this tournament almost a decade ago and says competing at the highest level is essential.
“Playing at that level of competition was a big thing,” Quinlan said. “Some of these guys come from high schools where you’re not going to have that level, being able to get that film and that experience and be able to send to CIS scouts, that’s huge.”
In addition to his duties scouting for Waterloo, Bertoia is also the offensive co-ordinator of Team Ontario at the tournament. He says he’s able to sometimes do both at the same time.
“You get to hang out with the kids for two weeks, you really get to see their true colours show. Some are fabulous, some you go in with mixed feelings about, and you come out thinking, ‘Wow I misjudged that kid, he’s a fantastic kid and great football player.’”
And when looking at the country’s U18 football calendar, you could say the Football Canada Cup is the Christmas of the season. A gift for everyone involved.
“In regards to culminating all provinces, getting the best kids on same field, competing against each other and carrying provincial pride, it’s great,” Bertoia said.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. That’s why you see so many college coaches here. It’s a one stop shop, you could say.”
This post is also available in: French