This past weekend the minds of Canadian sports fans were captured by a group of U19 basketball players wearing maple leafs on their uniforms. Canada won the FIBA U19 world championship in Egypt, cementing basketball’s red and white future.
While it might not be on an international stage, those who love the future of Canadian sport understand the importance of a week long event held each July known as the Football Canada Cup.
Are you a big fan of Ontario’s triple headed backfield monster attack featuring Keon Edwards, Chase Brown and Tanner Nelmes? Do you have your Nova Scotia Riley Gabriel jersey yet? Have you got an autograph from BC football’s defensive line duo of Tyler Eckert or Joe Nickel?
Probably not, but they are just a few of the many names you’re going to want to know moving forward.
Don’t believe me? Once upon a time some of your favourite players donned the colours of their provincial football organization and competed with the best at their age in the Football Canada Cup.
Current Roughriders Nic Demski and Tyler Crapigna played for Manitoba and Ontario East respectively before moving on to stellar U Sports careers and now star weekly in Regina.
Patrick Lavoie and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon each played on Team Quebec’s U19 offering in 2006 before becoming decorated members of the Laval Rouge Et Or and now Ottawa Redblacks. Their teammate and former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees defensive lineman Ettore Lattanzio battled to prove his relatively small stature could compete with the best when he played for Team Ontario East in 2007. He did, and still continues to bull rush his way through the CFL’s best blockers ten years later.
Darian Durant’s first completion as a Montreal Alouette went to none other than 2008 Team Quebec U19 fullback J.C. Beaulieu. Who had that on their CFL fantasy bingo card?
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a plethora of former Canada Cup participants including starting centre Mike Filer (2008, U19 Ontario) and veteran star slotback Andy Fantuz (2002, U19 Ontario). Not to mention a pair of young up and coming special teams linebackers in Terrell Davis (2010 & 2011, U18 BC) and Geoff Hughes (2010, U18 Saskatchewan).
The Edmonton Eskimos starting free safety Neil King and fellow Esks long snapping brother Ryan each competed in 2006 for team Alberta while Calgary Stampeders Dan Federkeil (2001) and Anthony Parker (2007) would also play for team Alberta before both enrolling at the University of Calgary.
If that isn’t enough, how about the fact that 60 per cent of the BC Lions starting offensive line currently comes from Football Canada Cup alumni in Charles Valliancourt (2009 & 2010, Quebec), Kirby Fabien (2007, Alberta) and Hunter Steward (2007 & 2008, Ontario East).
For Argos fans, receiver Brian Jones represented Nova Scotia’s U18 squad in 2011 while slotback Anthony Coombs played for Manitoba’s U17 team and Daryl Waud donned the red and black of team Ontario. The last two would go on to play for the 2012 IFAF world team. Both these accomplishments become part of the resumes of players who carry that experience with them towards the CFL draft and now a Canadian football career.
The Canada Cup serves as a stepping stone and a chance for players to prove themselves against the best. The field this week in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is littered with a variety of university logos. Some are there strictly to aid Football Canada or assist in coaching. Many others plan to recruit their next conference all-star or Vanier Cup champion.
More Canadians than ever are making their way into the NCAA ranks and returning as top flight CFL players carrying a Canadian passport while the overall quality of U Sports football continues to rise with more high flying athleticism and high quality line play being developed and put on display weekly through the fall months.
The Football Canada Cup is not the sole reason for any of this, but it certainly plays a role and has a deep history reaching back well beyond currently active players in the CFL.
Whether you realize it or not, the modern era of Canadian football development is still well within its relative infancy. The sky is the limit. What’s to say down the road the Football Canada Cup couldn’t be a television broadcast worthy production or an annual summer summit for all things Canadian football?
For now it remains one of the best indicators of names to watch for in the university ranks and maybe, just maybe, the pros.
Get your tickets, jerseys and popcorn ready. The next generation is coming.
The Football Canada Cup runs from July 8-July 14. More information can be found at FootballCanada.com.