Five Lakers football players have been given the chance of a lifetime to play for junior football teams in Edmonton and Calgary.
Sulley Larocque, Kyle Eckenswiller and Landon Rosene all received invitations to play for the Edmonton Huskies, while Skylar Selk and Seth Blagen were invited to play for the Calgary Colts.
Joining the junior football teams means a huge life change in making the transition from minor football to playing on a junior team with bigger, more advanced teammates as old as 22.
The boys commit to at least one season with the team and are required to play most days of the week for several hours each day.
The Colts will play most of their games at McMahon Stadium starting Aug. 16 and ending with a national championship game on Nov. 7.
Colts head coach Matt Blokker said new players in their first year are transformed from boys to men.
“It’s a huge jump for them,” Blokker said. “But at the same time these guys are trying to create a balance between life and football so they can reach their aspirations of being football professionals and playing university football.”
Blokker said if the players can excel on a junior team, they have a real chance of moving on to playing for higher-level teams such as the Calgary Stampeders.
He said the new players have to adapt to playing with others who have completely different lifestyles. He described a possible situation of a first-year player being lined up beside another older player who is married with children.
This is meant to help new players adapt quickly to different situations in a fast-paced game, where preparing for a game isn’t all about being on the field and running with the ball.
Blokker said the players have to do their homework before playing the game, which means preparing at different levels every week.
“It’s a learning process and until you go through your first year, you don’t understand it,” Blokker said. “Our job is to teach that and make sure that our guys in their first year are mentally prepared just as much as they are physically prepared.”
The Edmonton Huskies start their football season Aug. 15 and finish Oct. 11. They will play many of their games at Clarke Stadium.
Just like the the boys who were invited to play for the Colts, the boys playing for the Huskies are required to be fully committed to the game as well.
Huskies media co-ordinator Hernan Salas said once the season starts, the players are typically on the field Monday to Saturday, with Sunday being one of their only days off.
Salas said being on the team provides players with a supportive family atmosphere where the coaches, management and the board care about the well-being of the players.
“Being around them you feel like family,” Salas said. “From the board members right to the last player on the roster, there’s always interaction and they’re always wanting to help these kids out. They learn how to respect one another and they are all like brothers at the end.”
Salas said many of the Huskies players have been accepted to play for college-level football teams and are equipped with strong work ethics, which they learned in their time playing for the Huskies.
“It’s a lot of commitment for these guys and they’re not getting paid,” Salas said. “These kids work their butts off and they don’t just sit at home and wait to practice. They have daily lives. It’s admirable what they go through.”
The most important thing the new players learn is how to work hard, how to train hard and how to keep their personal lives going — all of which Salas said prepares them for real-life situations as adults.
Lakers head coach Jeremy Braitenback has had the privilege of training these five players into the young football players they are, and said they are exceptional players who have made their coaches very proud.
He said it’s not typical for five players to receive invitations to play for the junior teams.
“In the past we haven’t been able to put many players on post-secondary teams because the city has always had advantages over our programs, but we’re starting to catch up,” Braitenback said. “The kids are playing as young as eight years old. These guys had the benefit of playing since they were 10 years old.”
He said the Central Alberta football program has come a long way with having football all the way down to the Atom level, where the kids can start playing at eight years old, which was an advantage the children in the city seemed to always have.
But now he said there is more of an equal opportunity.
Braitenback said he and the other coaches are very proud of how five of their players have made it on the teams and said it goes to show how far the players have grown within the program.