While this year the goal is winning the Football Canada Cup, three local players on Team Alberta have their eye squarely on their future post high school.
The best high school football players in the province in Grades 10 and 11 were in Red Deer and Lacombe on the weekend for Football Alberta’s main training camp for their U-18 team.
As the University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris pointed out to them on Saturday at MEGlobal Athletic Park, playing on this team will put the likes of Lindsay Thurber Raiders Ben Pasiuk and Owen Smith, and H.J. Cody’s Landon Rosene at the top of the recruiting list for many Canadian Interuniversity Sport programs.
“It’s a big deal for us, especially being from Central Alberta,” said Smith. “We’re getting looks now because the level of play in Central Alberta is getting a lot better, thanks to all of the coaches in Central Alberta. It’s a very good opportunity for us.”
The team will travel to Saskatoon for the Canada Cup July 6-12, where they will play against the best players in country of the same age. The last three years Alberta has earned its place among the top provinces in the country in high school football, making it to the finals in each of the last three years. The goal this year is to get over the hump and win it all.
“We’re here to win a championship,” said head coach Bryan Bradford. “We’ve got to get to the game, one game at a time, but our expectation is we’re going to win it all this year.”
But it will be tricky. They do have some big hurdles in the way like time constraints, their ability to install systems and plays and then to get everyone on the same page working together when most have never played together at all.
Central Alberta, however, is making one of its strongest contributions that the region has ever made, especially on offence.
With Rosene, they have one of the region’s most dynamic running backs. He may not have prototypical size, at five-foot-five and 145 pounds, but he’s tough to catch and is versatile enough to be able to carry the rock and is a reliable option to catch the ball out of the backfield.
He was named the most valuable offensive player Central Alberta High School Football League this past season.
“He’s outstanding,” said Bradford. “He’s got great speed, and the thing with him is he’s got great vision. We really see him contributing to our return game and as a back out of the back field, he’s going to sneak in behind our big offensive line and I think he’s going to have a great tournament.”
He’s just looking forward to the opportunity to leave his mark on the team.
“It’s awesome, I love playing with elite players like these and competing for nationals,” said Rosene.
Pasiuk appears to have an line as one of the starting receivers on the team, with his five-foot-11, 180-pound frame, he emerged as a breakout star for the Raiders this season as a Grade 10 player.
“Ben’s just a great athlete,” said team general manager Gino Castellan, who is also the head coach of the Notre Dame Cougars. “He’s a pure athlete and he’s a smart kid, academically he smart as well. He brings skill and he’s very balanced in the knowledge of the game.”
Pasiuk, 16, says they should have a dynamic offence at the Canada Cup despite the short preparation time.
“It’s going to be high tempo and physical, we’re going to exploit our speed and just go play football,” he said.
Smith is the lone local representative on the defensive side of the ball, but the five-foot-11, 155-pound safety should see plenty of time on the field as a CAHSFL all-star this year,
“He’s a very talented player,” said Bradford. “He’s getting some great coaching here and he’s going to get a lot stronger, but he fits in right with what we want our defensive backs to do.”
Smith, 17, says the defense will rely on their athleticism to shut down opponents in Saskatoon.
“We’re going to be fast and play every down hard and we’re going to show some teams how to play physical,” he said.
Central Alberta will also have an impact on the offensive line with Hunting Hills Lightning head coach Kyle Sedgewick running the unit. Castellan likes what he has seen so far.
“They’re coming together, which is another reason we run this main camp, to get these kids to know each other and come together as a group,” he said. “We’re a well rounded team this year … we’ve got good athletes all over the place.”