“Everyone wants to win”: How the East-West bowl experience resonates

Hamilton, ON- The U SPORTS football East-West Bowl has many different meanings. 

For former McMaster Marauders quarterback Marshall Ferguson, who played in the 2013 game, it’s an institution –  “a football field full of Canadian university football’s best and brightest coaches and players,” he calls it. 

For CFL personnel, it’s a key date on the CFL scouting calendar where they can evaluate U SPORTS players throughout the week. Many of the players in last year’s East West bowl went on to have stellar seniors this past year and are now in the CFL.

For the players this year, it’s a chance to compete and grow. Most of them are playing in this event for the first time.

Western Mustangs cornerback Richard Aduboffour spent part of the week meeting and introducing himself to everyone and learning everyone’s playing styles. 

Calgary Dinos offensive lineman John Bosse remembers how much fun he had throughout the week – meeting players from across Canada who he couldn’t have met otherwise. 

Concordia Stingers cornerback Ahmed Boubacar called it a great experience. “I’m actually glad I came,” he said. “Grateful for this opportunity. Grateful for this experience. Just grateful really.” 

The teams were split into East and West (depending on the school’s geography). The event was hosted by McMaster for the second year in a row. 

It’s a week-long one, with combine testing on Tuesday and then practises every day until game day on Saturday May 13. 

When those practices take place, the competitive spirit comes out. Adubouffer pointed out how no one wants to take reps off.  Boubacar pointed out when you’re among the best, everyone thinks the same.

“Everybody’s a winner. Everybody wants to win,” he added. “Everybody wants to dominate…it was easy for us to click because we had a common goal in the space.” 

Bosse saw how much the players pushed each other during the week but also the respect they had for one another. 

In this environment, he experienced going up against different playing styles. For him, that meant going up against different types of pass rushers. That also means going up against players he’s not as familiar with compared to his teammates in regular Dinos practices. 

John Bosse is entering his fourth season at Calgary (Photo: Calgary Dinos Athletics)

However, despite not being familiar at the start of the week, Bosse soon got to know his teammates – including his fellow offensive linemen. There’s a saying, he pointed out, about how offensive lineman do everything together.

The first day they were together, the offensive linemen knew each others’ names and got into the playbook. They hung out together after dinner. Bosse connected with them, including on Instagram. 

For Boubacar, those interactions meant meeting new teammates who were once RSEQ opponents. He remembers thinking it would be awkward at first. “Oh, this is not going to go well, we face these guys twice a [year],” he thought. “I don’t know if there’s going to be some animosity or anything.”

Soon, he found the opposite was true. They were super friendly and super genuine according to him. They clicked right off the bat due to their shared common goals. 

One shared experience among them was the presence of CFL scouts and personnel. They were watching the players throughout the week. 

How much are the players interacting with them though and how does it affect them?

Adubouffer said some of them have come up and introduced themselves. Bosse said he’s talked to coaches, recruits, team representatives and agents as well. However, with the CFL personnel, it’s more about them watching the players than talking to them. 

“When you see that Winnipeg Bomber or that Argo, you get more motivation to do better,” Bosse said. “It’s really good that they’re here, that they’re watching. Give guys a boost.” 

The viewing is constant. Boubacar said the players were told they are recorded every play, “so make sure you’re dominating and make sure you’re executing what you’re doing.”

When he thinks about the presence of CFL personnel, he doesn’t let it get to his head. Boubacar focuses on just playing football and enjoying it. As for pressure, he embraces it. 

“I love pressure,” he said. “I love adversity so when I’m put in uncomfortable situations, that’s where I feel I showcase the best version of myself.” 

After a week of practice, it was finally game day. The East (with Boubacar) gradually built up their lead over the West (with Bosse and Adubouffer). They won 37-0, the East’s first East-West bowl victory since 2015.

Preparation led to the victory, according to Boubacar. He and his teammates got together the previous evening and watched film, picking up on all their opponents’ tendencies. 

With the event now over, it provides players a chance to reflect on what’s ahead. They will return to their respective teams with the clock ticking until training camp and the dawn of a new season. 

Adubouffer wants to improve on everything. He said he and the Mustangs are upset at not winning the Vanier Cup last season and they are focused on setting the standard in training camp. 

“Hopefully, next year, around this time, we get a lot more Western guys into the draft,” he added. 

Boubacar said he wants to become a bit more explosive. He said the Stingers will have a good season. “I just want to be as close as a I can with my teammates and enjoy my last ride,” he noted. 

Bosse took from the experience the reminder about respecting the game and the brotherhood it provides. 

“Everyone’s risking their bodies or their mind or their time to play this game,” he said. “As much as you put into the game, you got to get back to it.” 

After a week in Hamilton, Bosse will not only have the week of training and the game under his belt but also lifelong friendships to last. “I’m really appreciative of this opportunity,” he noted. “I love this. I love this so much.” 

Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics

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