For Guelph Gryphon football graduates who are fortunate enough to call themselves CFLers, it just feels natural to come back and giving a lending hand to the program that helped them achieve their goals.
Four Gryphon grads were on hand at the program’s annual clinic for elite high school linemen – Cam Thorn, Jake Piotrowski, Cam Walker and Andrew Pickett. Walker (Toronto Argonauts) and Pickett (Ottawa Redblacks) are still playing while best buds Thorn and Piotrowski have both retired.
All know how big an opportunity it is for the clinic participants and they want to teach them whatever they can.
“We never really had an opportunity like this growing up. There wasn’t a lot of that where we came from up in Barrie,” Thorn said. “It’s awesome to see. As long as they come in, obviously work hard and take something back with them that they didn’t know before -- as long as they’re learning, that’s all that matters.”
“They’re all still young guys so focus on one thing and get better at one thing each day and just have fun,” Piotrowski said. “I think that’s the big thing for these guys. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point of doing it.”
“In all honesty, I try to teach them everything that’s helped me,” Pickett said. “We all had a starting point and we all started at a position like this and it was the knowledge that was passed on to me that got me to where I am today. So I try to pass it on to the next guy so they can work up and accomplish their dream. That’s really the goal of this.”
Pickett, who’s getting ready for his second season in the CFL, did notice a bit of a difference from his Gryphon days when he helped out at the clinic.
“At the end of the day you’re out here helping these guys get better and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “That’s consistent throughout it all, even helping at university you’re helping these guys get better. It is different now because you have the guys looking up to you in a different way. Before when you’re a university guy, they see that. Now you’re a pro and it’s like, woah, it’s a different lens they’re looking at you through. It’s cool in that aspect, but at the same time you’re just out here trying to get the kids better.”
While Thorn and Piotrowski didn’t have the opportunity to attend clinics like the Gryphon one when they were in high school, Pickett did and he took advantage of it.
“I was taking in all the knowledge I could and finding out what worked for me,” he said. “Also, I was having great guys working with me and supporting me throughout it all. I know what it’s like to have great mentors and have great people coaching you and that’s really what it is here. You have all these great players and great coaches and you’re learning a lot.”
For Thorn and Piotrowski, part of the enjoyment of helping out at the clinic is just being on the University of Guelph campus again. Best friends who played together both at high school and with the Gryphons, they both moved on to the CFL in 2014. Thorn saw playing time with the British Columbia Lions and Calgary Stampeders while Piotrowski
was with the Montreal Alouettes for a couple of seasons. They rode together to the clinic and likely spent most of the drives reminiscing about their Gryphon days.
“It’s so nice because we have such great memories here,” Thorn said. “Every time we come back here there’s a whole flood of emotions. It was the best time of our lives. It’s always great to come back and help.”
“It really is fun,” Piotrowski said. “I know it’s fun for me and it’s fun coming back to Guelph and being an alumni. It’s just fun all around.”
Piotrowski brought his football career to an end because of injuries and he returned to his family farm to work there.
“It was tough,” he said. “At the end of the day I miss it at times, but there are other times when I look back and it’s just such great memories and I’m just glad for the experience.”
And he hopes some of the information the clinic’s participants gained helps them attain their goals in the sport.
“It’s so fun just to watch each and every one of these young guys,” he said. “Their whole future is ahead of them and it’s just really fun to watch.”
And he hopes each of them achieved the clinic’s goal of leaving it as better football players than they were when they arrived earlier in the day.