Around U Sports Football: East-West Bowl Story, Pro Opportunities, a Historic Championship and 2022 lookahead. 

Hamilton,ON- The sun was shining last Saturday in Hamilton as the U Sports East-West Bowl made its triumphant return after a two year hiatus. Team West – made up of players from Canada West schools and half of the OUA – edged out team East (AUS, RSEQ and other half of the OUA) 11-8. 

McMaster quarterback Andreas Dueck found Waterloo receiver James Basalyga for the go-ahead touchdown before scoring the two-point conversion himself. On the sidelines, coaching legends Brian Towriss (West) and Gary Jeffries (East) served as the head coaches. Towriss won three Vanier Cups with the Saskatchewan Huskies while Jeffries led Wilfrid Laurier to their second-ever Vanier Cup title in 2005, defeating Towriss’ Huskies. 

 The game wrapped up a week of training and events and came at a time with quite a few notable things happening on the U Sports calendar. Here’s a look around U Sports Football. 

East-West Bowl Offers Challenge of Competition 

For the players, the East-West Bowl provided an opportunity to train and compete against fellow elite competition. It involves the top 2023 CFL draft-eligible players from all across the nation. 

“It was a great time, a great week,” Laurier defensive back Nico McCarthy said. “A great bunch of practices. A bunch of guys flying around. Energy was high.” 

He added “the tempo was unmatched” with the quality of the practices. “I would say what stood out for me was…we had a compete day. We put on pads. We had a full team crossover and it was unmatched. It was like no other. Just a great experience overall. Really made you a better player. Just couldn’t come out and take a rep off.”

University of Toronto running back Adam Williams had the lone touchdown for the East (Photo: Jojo Qian/McMaster Athletics)

Basalyga called it the best football experience he’s had. He added he hadn’t been in these type of events with players from different schools before, having not played summer ball. Basalyga also learned from the experience as well. 

“Just being accountable, as a person, as a teammate, is huge obviously and helps for a week like this to be possible,” he noted. 

Bishops’s defensive back Jake Kelly said the week was something he hadn’t really experienced before. “It was awesome,” he added. “The competition was really good.” He pointed out his eagerness to compete and wanting to take advantage of every single rep.

“It’s kind of like iron sharpens iron,” he noted. “When you’re going against someone that’s really good and you’re really good, it’s only going to make yourself better.” 

Combine Notables 

As part of the week, the players also took part in a combine where their measurables were recorded. There were some notable standouts. 

Kelly had the fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.53 seconds while also recording the highest vertical at 39 inches. It was part of his mindset of competing. “Wanted to run the fastest, wanted to jump the highest,” he said. 

Saskatchewan defensive back Charlie Ringland showed his length with a 37-inch vertical. He’s a lengthy, versatile corner – six foot, 203 pounds and 33 inch arms. Alberta Golden Bears defensive back Jake Taylor also had a notable combine with a 4.67 forty-year time, 4.12 short shuttle and 6.88 three-cone. He a 38-inch vertical jump and a ten-foot, eight-inches broad jump.

UBC’s left tackle Giovanni Manu – 6’7’’ at over 357 pounds and with almost 35-inch arms – had a vertical jump of 32.5 inches. JC Abbott of 3Down Nation called it “a realm of explosiveness typically reserved for first-round NFL draft picks.”

Players Earn CFL and NFL Opportunities 

While the current U Sports players were making their mark, several former U Sports players were getting professional opportunities on both sides of the border. 

Former Calgary Dino and Vanier Cup Champion Deane Leonard was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL Draft, becoming the first Dino to be selected into the NFL. Leonard played at Calgary for three seasons before transferring to Ole Miss for the past two years.

Once the NFL draft concluded, mini-camp opportunities started coming in. Western defensive lineman Deionte Knight received rookie mini-camp invites from the Washington Commanders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The CFL draft was full of U Sports players, including University of Ottawa offensive lineman as the highest-drafted U Sports player at second overall to Ottawa. 

Hec Crighton winner Tre Ford earned CFL and NFL opportunities this spring (Photo; Courtney Caird/Waterloo Athletics)

It was a noteworthy time for brothers Tyrell and Tre Ford from Waterloo, who received NFL mini-camp invites (running back Tyrell with the Steelers and Jets and quarterback Tre with the Ravens and Giants). They were also selected in the CFL draft as Tre went 8th overall to the Edmonton Elks and Tyrell to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 13th overall. 

Basalyga called both of them vibrant, confident and genuine people and said he anticipates they’ll do great in their next chapter – whether that be the NFL or CFL. “It’s an honour to play with them, it’s a privilege,” Basalyga said. “I’ve learned a lot from them as far as work ethic and just responsibility.”

Women’s Flag Football History 

While the East-West Bowl was going on at McMaster, history was being made at Carleton University that same weekend. It was the first-ever National Women’s Football Weekend, run by Football Canada. 

It wrapped up with a Team Canada Senior women’s Red-White game. Before that, the Montreal Carabins won the first-ever Canadian Collegiate Flag Football Championships with a finals victory over the UQAM Citadins by a score of 26-19. The University of Regina won the bronze medal. 

The Montreal Carabins celebrate their historic gold medal (Photo: Football Canada)

The tournament included ten teams: Montreal and UQAM, the Saskatchewan Huskies, two teams from the University of Regina (Green and Yellow), the University of Toronto, and two teams from Western (Purple and White) as well as provincial teams from Nova Scotia and Manitoba.

Looking Ahead to 2022

The off-season is just kicking off with some teams having already held their spring camps. For the players, it’s an opportunity to continue improving. 

“Honestly, just getting into film and learning more about the game and honestly, just training to be a better athlete, better football player,” said Kelly. 

The OUA – which released its 2022 schedule – returns to its normal regular season length. Gone are the East and West divisions from last season and back is the usual eight game schedule for each team. 

McCarthy said his goals include competing and showcasing his abilities. “The goal is to win the Vanier,” he added.

Featured Image: Jojo Qian/McMaster Athletics 

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