The Guelph Gryphons have had quite a bit of success putting offensive and defensive linemen into the CFL in recent years and part of the reason for that is the effort of offensive line coach Mike MacDonald and defensive line coach Brian Cluff.
Last year five former Gryphs were linemen in the CFL – Ryan Bomben with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Jake Piotrowski with the Montreal Alouettes and Cam Thorn with the Calgary Stampeders on offence and Jeff Finley with the Alouettes (he’s with the Argos now) and Cam Walker with the Argos on defence. Offensive lineman Kyle Fraser- Audit completed his five years of eligibility with the Gryphons in 2016 and signed with the Ottawa RedBlacks after the completion of last season.
“If a student-athlete has the aspiration to play at the next level, we want to be a program that is going to give them that opportunity,” Cluff said. “I look at it as an entire program focus. We’ve got coaching. We’ve got great facilities. We’ve got great strength and conditioning. We’ve got physiotherapy clinic with a fulltime staff there. I think we put student-athletes in a great position to be able to achieve and aspire to that next level.”
“The way I look at it, I’m getting them better because No. 1 I want them to be better, No. 2 I want our team to be better and my group to be better,” MacDonald said. “I feel if I do that, the better I prepare them and the better they get prepared in the weight room, the more film I watch with them, then they’re going to be better prepared naturally to go to the CFL. We’re putting quite a few offensive linemen into the CFL so I guess it’s working. I don’t feel any pressure to put guys into the CFL. I think that’s going to be a natural consequence of getting them to be the best they can be for us.”
Piotrowski, Thorn, Finley, Walker and Fraser-Audit joined some current Gryphon linemen and coaches MacDonald and Cluff at the Gryphon Fieldhouse on the weekend for the team’s elite linemen camp.
“It’s great having them,” Cluff said of the former Gryphons. “Our whole focus, coach MacDonald and myself, is that we wanted to have some current Gryphons coaching and we also wanted to have some of our Gryphons who are in the CFL here. That happened today and that was fantastic. Those players are special. They’re special athletically, but they also have that drive and that passion. As much as we provide that opportunity with all the resources and the facilities we have here, those players it really came from them, too.”
The camp wasn’t for the ordinary high school player. It was for those who were serious about their football and had aspirations of remaining in the sport at the university level. “The concept is to expose these high school players to what it’s like at university – what kind of coaching they receive, how we flow and transition to the different segments of our practice and we wanted to give them some advanced skills,” Cluff said. “We looked at some stunts. We ran some runs to defend at them and it was good. It was very good day.”
“This camp is not a basic camp so the skills are a little more advanced,” MacDonald said. “The players are at a higher calibre and that’s why we brought these particular ones in. We’re working more higher-level concepts and not spending a ton of time at each one so they’ve got to pick it up quick. The type of players we’ve got – a lot of Team Ontario kids and a lot of them play rep football so they’re getting decent coaching and that’s kind of what our goal was.”
For the CFL Gryphons, the camp was an opportunity for them to help the youngsters who are hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“I didn’t have that when I was growing up so this is a good opportunity for young individuals to come in and get that experience and the competitiveness before coming to camp, which is huge,” Finley said. “When I first came to Guelph, the competitiveness was a shock at the time. I wasn’t ready for it. It took me two years to get ready, but these guys are getting it before going to university so it’s a huge step in the right direction.”
“(We’re teaching) things they’re not going to get from high school coaches,” Walker said. “Things that you learn once you come to university and giving them an early jump on that I think is the biggest thing.
“I never had the opportunity to come to this camp, but definitely going to university camps at the end of my high school career was definitely a beneficial thing for me.”
The camp was the first of three that the Gryphons have scheduled on consecutive Saturdays. The Easter weekend camp will be the team’s Elite Skills Camp while the Specialists Camp is set for April 22.