The pandemic forced the Canadian Football League into unprecedented territory which forced cancelation of the season.
The threat of the virus also ended the season before it even began for Prince George football players hoping to make their mark on the B.C. High School Secondary Schools Football Association.
With no football being played on the high school field, that’s especially worrisome for Grade 12 players hoping to extend their career next year in the Canadian Junior Football Conference or on a university team. With no games going on, how will those seniors get the message out to recruiters that they’re worthy of being invited to a training camp next spring?
Corey Mace and the Calgary Stampeders are doing what they can to help those kids thrive on the gridiron and are inviting players from northern B.C. to attend a skills camp instructed by the likes of Stamps quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell going on this weekend in Kelowna.
The ALFA (Athletes Learning From Athletes) All Pro Camp starts Friday with a free coaching clinic open to any football coach in the province. The camp will be split into two divisions, one for players in Grades 7-9 and the other for Grades 10- 12 and each group will receive two 90-minute on-field instructional sessions Saturday and Sunday at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
“We’ve had to split them up because of COVID and for the young guys we’ll really be teaching the fundamentals and helping them understand why we do things and obviously we’re going to have a ton of fun,” said camp organizer Corey Mace.
On Sunday the older players will take part in a morning combine which will test their individual skills, while the afternoon sessions will focus on one-on-one drills, which will be recorded with video equipment. Each player’s video will be made available after the camp to use as a recruitment tool.
The COVID crisis and its consequences freed up the services of the Stampeders for a rare opportunity to work with kids during a time of year when they’re usually preoccupied with chasing down the Grey Cup.
Mitchell, the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2016 and 2018, will work with the quarterbacks, Kamar Jordan will instruct the wide receivers, and Stamps alumni Matt Walter will share his knowledge with running backs. The camp also features former Stampeders/Ottawa Redblack and Kelowna resident Jon Gott (offensive line), Stampeders defensive coordinator Brent Monson will handle the defensive backs, middle linebacker Corey Greenwood has the linebackers, Mace will coach the defensive linemen and ALFA Project founder Taylor Altilio (last year’s B.C. Lions special teams coordinator) will oversee special teams.
“The guys are all on board and kudos to guys like Bo who stay in town here, I call our adopted Canadians, and they understand the quality of football, obviously it’s not the number 1 sport in our country, but we have really good athletes,” said Mace. “It’s a matter of raising the grassroots level and who knows, we might even be drafting some of the kids we see this weekend in the first round in a few years’ time and that’s the goal.”
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool of Abbotsford, who set an NFL record on Sunday for the longest touchdown play from scrimmage for a Canadian-born player, got his start playing minor football in B.C.
Mace, the Stamps’ defensive line coach, is a native of Port Moody who went in to play in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills (2007-09) before coming to Calgary for a six-season stint (2010-15) to finish his playing career. The camp he’s organizing in Kelowna is the first in football for the ALFA group and there might be one more this year in the Lower Mainland. Mace says there’s a chance Prince George will get to host one of its own in the future.
“When I was growing up in Vancouver the Lions weren’t in the community a ton and there was nothing for us to learn outside of what we’re doing and this camp is our first one,” said Mace. “I know for the kids in Prince George, Kelowna is not close but in years coming I want to make this thing all over the province and make it more convenient for kids and coaches.
“We always want to hit a new spot and we really want to get some of the Prince George boys and girls coming down for the camp. Every year we want to make sure we come back to B.C.”
The early-bird price for the camp is $150 (juniors) and $170 (seniors) if they register before the Wednesday deadline. Space is limited to 150 players and organizers have arranged for cut-right lodging fees at three hotels near the field. To register, go to the website - thealfaproject.com.