New Brunswick Future Stars Camp a Hit
By Robert Touchie
Appeared on page B1
The year's second annual ran from Monday to Wednesday at Chapman
Field and involved prospective footballers under the age of 17.
Brought to fruition by Blanchard and his football contacts in the region, the camp has seen direct and immediate results since its inaugural run last year.
Blanchard spoke of the great debt of gratitude he owed to his volunteers, instructors and sponsors who helped him 'bring it all together' after he had been away in Europe for six weeks on a work assignment and didn't have much time to get things together the way he wanted this year.
"We were down a bit this year from last year, in terms of numbers, but overall, we've seen the same level of enthusiasm and hard work from the players and instructors," said Blanchard, indicating that 78 players took part.
"We had greater diversity in the backgrounds of the kids this year, as we've got kids from Alberta, six athletes from St.Stephen, and a boy from Texas, as well.''
Blanchard had 15 coaches on board this year, which he says gave the kids an opportunity to have more 'hands-on teaching opportunities' from "top notch instructors and coaches" from the CIS and high school levels.
Having a ratio of roughly one coach for every five players worked out pretty well for the 16 and 17 year olds from last years camp, as Nathan Heather found himself on scholarship to Bishop's University in Quebec.
Mitch McCoy will head back to Oromocto High School in a few weeks to complete Grade 12 but already has feelers out from the NCAA as a result of a camp he attended (and was singled out as one of five all-stars out of 140 attendees) at the University of Maine in July.
Blanchard's son, Josh, met Mount Allison Mounties' head coach Kelly Jeffrey at the camp last summer and will be on scholarship at the school for the next four years.
The younger Blanchard worked as an instructor this year at the camp and starts training camp with the Mounties in less than a week.
The coaches from the AUS schools were actively recruiting, setting up visits and getting contact information from a number of kids at the camp, part of the objective of the camp, said Blanchard.
"This year instructing was a much different perspective than when I was a player, but I liked it a great deal," said Josh Blanchard who carried an 85 average out of Oromocto High School when he graduated in June, garnering the school's Student of the Year award.
"I had met Kelly before last year but at this camp, I really got to talk to him about his program. I had other schools to choose from but I felt comfortable playing for him and I got an academic scholarship to a great school for four years. It's ideal."
Blanchard is not alone in using the camp as a networking opportunity. At the conclusion of camp, there was a flurry of number and card exchanges occurring as the coaches, some from the CIS level, and older players exchanged contact information and arranged visits for the fall to their respective campuses.
Along with Jeffrey, also present were former Mounties and Calgary Dinos' coach Kevin Artichuk, two Acadia coaches, quarterback coach Chris Judd and defensive line coach Peter Fraser, who happens to be an OHS graduate.
Judd, for one, was impressed with how the camp progressed.
"We're here to find some talent for Acadia football, absolutely," said Judd, who had a celebrated quarterback career at the Wolfville, N.S. school. He also played professionally in Europe.
"New Brunswick, and the Fredericton area in particular, we've found to be a hotbed for football talent and we want to tap into it. It's a great spot to recruit and find the building blocks we need to form a champion at Acadia,'' said Judd.
"By being involved in a camp like this, not only does it bring a lot of benefit to the kids and the minor programs, but it also gives us a chance to see the kids play and meet them as opposed to just hearing about them second hand."
Judd went on to list Cam Wade, J.P. Bowie, Ed McNally and Mike Miller (all of Moncton) as major cogs in the Acadia program. He has special praise for two local talents from the Fredericton area, Jake Thomas and A.J. Durling.
"Jake Thomas is only in his third year and he was second in the CIS in tackles for loss last year, added five sacks and is a defensive leader for us, and we expect even bigger things," said Judd of the Leo Hayes product.
"AJ Durling didn't get to contribute much at receiver last year for us but that was our plan all along and we feel that time gave him a good opportunity to develop and he has.
"You can see an incredible difference in A.J. from last fall to now and we expect him to contribute heavily in our offence for the next four years."
Judd said he saw 'many' talented players he was interested in but was particularly piqued by OHS senior Matt Fagan, Leo Hayes juniors Nick Richardson and Isaac Pickle and sophomore Blake Murphy from Fredericton High. All, he said, were 'on the radar' of CIS schools.
The senior Blanchard added the objective of the camp was not just to teach football, but also enforce the notion that "schooling is important.''
Jake Thomas was brought in to speak to the kids about that on Tuesday and according to Blanchard, his presentation "was excellent.''
"I love to work with kids, and these kids are great. They listen and what I enjoy most is seeing the improvement over such a short period of time," said Thomas.
"What I talked to the kids about were three things: the importance of hard work, the importance of getting your education so you can play football, and I especially wanted to stress to them that people from our region now have a real chance to do something with this sport. I specifically singled out people like Josh Sacobie, Dan McCullough, David Skillen and Justin Conn as examples to hold up and strive to emulate."
Eight-year-old Sam Phillips was inspired by the message. An aspiring defensive back who won a coveted coach's award (best at his position) for his age group, Phillips could barely contain his excitement after receiving the award.
"I had so much fun this week", said Phillips. When asked what he liked best, Phillips said: It's football. I like it all...scrimmaging, hitting, getting hit, what's not to like?''