Merkley held his own at Stampeders training camp

Trying out for the Calgary Stampeders provided a major test for 26-year-old Matt Merkley of Sylvan Lake.

Trying out for the Calgary Stampeders provided a major test for 26-year-old Matt Merkley of Sylvan Lake. And it’s one he passed with flying colours.

While he wasn’t sure whether he had made the cut at press time (those who did were to be given a call before the end of last week), he was immensely happy with his performance at the Apr. 5 training camp in Richmond, Virginia.

It was one he felt proved his ability to hold his own against some of the league’s top prospects.

“I definitely was happy with what I brought,” he said. “Even if I didn’t get picked, I saw what I could do, and gave it my all.”

Merkley, trying out as a receiver, underwent basic football testing, and was evaluated for his skills in running, catching and jumping.

As the only Canadian there, he trained among players from some of the top college and university teams across America.

One of his most satisfying moments came when he defeated one of the camp’s strongest defensive backs in a one-on-one play.

Another came at the end of the weekend when the camp’s head coach congratulated him on making a number of big catches.

“To be noticed — that was a big thing,” he said.

Even if he doesn’t find himself part of the Stampeders’ roster, Merkley feels the experience was a vastly positive one.

And if he’s not picked, he feels he’ll return to his local team — Central Alberta Buccaneers — a stronger player because of it.

“I knew I could compete with them, and I could definitely see where I stand,” he said.

After word spread that Merkley was trying out, Sylvan Lake’s minor football community and others quickly got behind him and offered their support.

Players and parents of the bantam Lions football team, which he helps coach, raised $1,720 to help cover his travel expenses.

Another $1,000 came from a generous relative of a student at École Steffie Woima Elementary School, where he works as a Grade 5 teacher.

He’s extremely grateful to everyone who helped, and plans to donate unused funds back to minor football.

“I’m very appreciative,” he said. “It was just a really sweet and awesome experience.”