Red Deer is not generally thought of as a power when it comes to producing top football players.
That’s more of a historical view. That perception is changing and in a hurry.
At the forefront of this movement is Notre Dame Cougars graduate Joe McQuay. Some scouting sites had him ranked in the top 10 of all high school linemen in the country this year.
The University of Alberta Golden Bears liked him enough to offer him a football scholarship, while Team Canada liked him enough to make him one of five high school players on their world championship team that earned silver in Kuwait.
“I’m just very thankful for everything I’ve been given in life,” said the six-foot-six, 275-pounder.
“It’s awesome to see hard work paying off. I’m just a small town kid, in a place that’s not really known in the football world. But to be able to put my name and put Red Deer on the map is a great feeling.”
Notre Dame head coach Gino Castellan says some of that change in perception has to come from within. Players have to have the confidence to put themselves out there and try out for provincial and national teams. As the manager for Football Alberta’s U-19 team, it’s a drum he is beating loud. McQuay listened.
Other players like Lindsay Thurber Raiders Ben Pasiuk and Owen Smith, and H.J. Cody’s Landon Rosene also received the message this summer and were on Football Alberta’s U-18 squad.
“(McQuay) did all of the right things, he went to all of the right camps and got better and better,” said Castellan. “His body changed over time into a great football body and he’s a great kid who works hard.”
McQuay, 18, played for the Zone 4 Parkland team at the Alberta Summer Games. He tried out and made Team Alberta in 2013, made the Senior Bowl North team, and made Team Canada’s U-19 team, first for February’s International Bowl in Texas and most recently for the world championships in July.
That experience was a once in a life time opportunity that he had little warning for.
After playing well at the International Bowl, he was short-listed for their reserve squad, but didn’t hear anything for a while.
Three days before the team left for a training camp in Italy, he got the call after a University of Saskatchewan player got hurt. Or more accurately, his mother got the call.
“She asked, ‘what are you doing on the weekend?’ ‘Oh nothing, just chilling and then I got grad,’ and she said, ‘OK, well we got a flight booked for Milan, Italy,’” said McQuay, who suited up at right guard.
Kuwait is a bit of a misnomer when thinking American-style football. But with Western influences taking a strong hold, particularly those from the U.S., the sport is starting to develop in the Middle East.
Still, they have a long way to go. Canada routed them 92-0 in the first game.
They followed that with 56-0 win over France and a 34-7 win over Austria.
This put them into the gold medal game with the U.S., a team Canada beat at the previous world championship.
The U.S. was not taken by surprise this time and won 42-14.
“We were up 14-12 at the half, but just came out flat in the second half,” said McQuay.
It was also an opportunity for McQuay to experience a whole new part of the world, but what might have stuck out the most was the heat. When they stepped off the plane at 6:30 a.m., it was already 36C. The highest it hit was 52C. This limited game times to after the sun went down and before it came up, when temperatures would be a cool 38C.
“I walked in having no idea what to expect,” he said. “They’re very westernized, very American influenced, lots of big shopping malls around and lots of English. It was really nice.”
Most importantly, this tournament will help prepare McQuay for Canadian Interuniversity Sport football. Of the 40 players on Team Canada, only five were high school players, meaning the rest were among the best first year college players in the country.
Expectations are high for McQuay at the next level.
The U of A is in the process of completely rebuilding its struggling football program under the guidance of coach Chris Morris, a former CFL running back, who went 0-8 and was outscored 188-419 in his first year on the sidelines.
But this recruiting class will be his first, and hopes are the 10 players he is bringing will help lay the foundation for that rebuild. Sylvan Lake’s TJ Sloboda is also part of that group.
McQuay is looking forward to being part of the process.
“It’s nice being the people starting it out, the trail blazers and once it gets going again I will always know I was one of those players pushing it forward,” he said. “He’s bringing in some top notch players from throughout the province.”
However, McQuay is not sure he wants to go beyond the college and pursue a CFL career. He is going after a teaching degree at the university and wants to teach high school math. Being able to affect young people is a major driving force for him.
“At the high school level, I just want to give back to the sport,” he said. “It has given me so much in life and just to be able to give back and coach, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”