Team Canada hopefuls: Three university-playing footballers all with connections to Fredericton are heading to Montreal this weekend in an attempt to earn spots on Canada’s junior team that will compete in the inaugural International Federation of American Football world junior (ages 19 and under) championship in Canton, Ohio beginning June 27. Hopefuls include, from left: Ryan Downe, Jake Thomas and Elliott Hicks. Both Downe and Hicks played with FHS and are now with Mount Allison Mounties while Thomas played his high school ball at Leo Hayes High and is now a member of the Acadia Axemen.
Footballers vying for chance to shine on world stage

By Dave Ritchie

If all goes well, three footballers with Fredericton connections could be a part of making history.

Former Fredericton High Schoolers Elliott Hicks and Ryan Downe and ex-Leo Hayes High Lions' defensive end Jake Thomas are heading to a tryout camp this weekend at Concordia University in Montreal.

The three plus Ed McNally of Riverview are the New Brunswickers who fit the age criteria (19 and under) and have been identified through their play at the university level and recommended by their respective coaches to attend a camp that will help determine the makeup of Canada's junior team.

Now the history-making part. Team Canada has qualified as one of eight countries making up the inaugural International Federation of American Football world junior championship beginning June 27 in Canton, Ohio. Canton is home to the National Football League's Hall of Fame and the tournament will be played in conjunction with the annual Hall of Fame game there.

Joining the Canadian and American entries are Japan representing Asia; Germany, Sweden and France representing Europe after placing in the top three at the 2008 European championships, New Zealand representing Oceania after defeating Australia in its regional qualifying match and Mexico earning a spot as the Pan-American entry after defeating Panama. Canada goes in as the top seed. Since joining the NFL Global Juniors series in 2000, the Canadian rep has won four golds and four silvers, losing only to the Americans.

Canada plays New Zealand in its opening game June 27. Winners advance to semifinals on the Wednesday while the losers play a consolation round. Placement games are scheduled on the Saturday with the semifinal winners from Wednesday meeting in the July 5 championship game. American rules are used, meaning 11-men on the field opposed to 12 as played in the CFL, four downs opposed to Canada's three and the smaller field (100 yards compared to the CFL's 110-yards). End zones are more compressed as well.

Coaching the Canadian team is Glen Constantin. Thomas' coach at Acadia, Jeff Cummins, is also part of the coaching contingent.

Football Canada and Football Quebec are holding the series of regional camps. Some 30 players figure to advance out of this weekend's Concordia camp, joining up with players advancing from similar camps held earlier at University of Calgary and McMaster University in Hamilton.

Dave Blanchard, director of coaching development for Football New Brunswick and part of the Tackle Committee with Football Canada, figures some 65 players will emerge to attend a national camp at University of Western University in mid-June that will determine the final roster for the tournament in Canton.

Hicks, a defensive back at 5'11 and 172 pounds, and Downe, 6'3'' and 235 pounds who plays defensive end, will be going into their second seasons at Mount Allison University this fall. Thomas, 6'2'' and 250 pounds is also a defensive end with a year under his belt at Acadia University. McNally also plays at Acadia.

Blanchard, for one, thinks the development of junior football at the world level, is the vehicle that will eventually drive the sport's entry into Olympic Games competition.

"There are 42 countries that play international hockey. Well, there are 48 countries that play football. Most people don't know that,'' says Blanchard. "I'm sure a part of that is the American influence all over the world. Kids are taking up the sport, more people are watching, and now you're seeing a lot more people around the world taking an interest.''