Quest for the CFL
Johnny Augustine recalls the precise moment that he wanted to be a professional football player. After his very first game his freshman year in high school, it dawned on Augustine that playing football for a living should be his goal. The former star running back of the Guelph Gryphons realized that dream last year when he made the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ roster.
It has taken an incredible amount of work to get there but Augustine never shied away from putting in max effort.
“I used to do crazy things growing up,” says the 26-year-old from Welland, ON, while riding the bus with his Blue Bomber teammates as they prepare for a Friday night matchup with the Edmonton Eskimos. “I would do 1,000 pushups and 1,000 situps every day. I was in karate and that helped me develop discipline and a work ethic. And I always had people around me who provided motivation.
“It’s been a relatively smooth transition (to the CFL) physically and mentally because I prepared myself for this.”
Gryphon Football has a long tradition of sending athletes to the next level, beginning all the way back in 1925 when Joe Cook joined the Toronto Argonauts. And over the decades, several players wearing the red, black and gold have swapped their jerseys to make a name in the CFL, like Gerry Organ, Jed Tommy, Jeff Volpe, Parri Ceci, Frank Marof, Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters, and Rob Maver, just to name a few.
In recent years, the number of Gryphons off to the league has been impressive. The program’s extended period of success, combined with the first-rate facilities and coaching, has produced a cluster of players who were ready to join the pro ranks. Names like John Rush, Curtis Newton, Cam Walker, Ryan Bomben, Jeff Finley, Curtis Newton, Jacob Scarfone, and Andrew Pickett are among them. And just these past couple years, decorated Gryphons Luke Korol, Royce Metchie, Nick Parisotto, and Gabe Ferraro have joined Augustine in the CFL.
Similar to his long-time teammate Augustine, Ferraro knew he wanted to be a pro at a young age. The 23-year-old from Mississauga grew up and Argos fan and remembers players like Jeff Johnson speaking at his high school football banquet. Ferraro even got to try on Johnson’s Grey Cup ring and is quick to point out that he was in the stands at the 100th edition of big game at Rogers Centre.
“It was always more than a dream – it was a goal,” he says. “I thought it was always attainable and something that I was working towards. It never left my mind.”
Ferraro’s journey to the CFL wasn’t easy, having been drafted by the Calgary Stampeders and released. But Ferraro kept training in Guelph with his brother Daniel, waiting for a call. Earlier this summer, it came and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were ready to give the Gryphon kicking legend a chance.
“They called me on a Wednesday and asked, ‘Can you fly out tomorrow morning?’” says Ferraro from his new in-season home Regina. “I flew in and was playing on Saturday. It happened so quick I wasn’t even thinking. Then all of a sudden, it was game day.
“I’ve been enjoying the experience. It’s a great team and the locker room is awesome. It’s reminds me a lot of Guelph – they really preach family, loving your teammates and playing for your teammates. I love it here.”
Ferraro, who credits the Calgary organization and specifically Maver for helping him realize what it ultimately takes to be a pro throughout the past two CFL training camps, got his first action against the Stamps. He was glad that it was a whirlwind because he didn’t have time to dwell on what it all meant. When it came time for his first kick off, the U SPORTS legend experienced a new sensation.
“I could feel my body shaking,” he says. “It was nice to get the butterflies out right away and it was just another football game at that point. A lot louder but another football game.”
Ferraro has settled in, making seven of his first nine field goal attempts as a pro, including a longest make of 48 yards. Augustine is also finding his groove. The second-year pro kept two mementos from last year that sit in his Guelph home – a touchdown ball from the 2018 exhibition season and another from the regular season, each coming against the Eskimos.
“It was a confirmation that I could actually do this,” says Augustine. “That was humbling. If you put forth the effort and drive, it is possible. To score a touchdown at the highest level was an accomplishment.”
Now the next crop of Gryphons who have exhibited the talent to play beyond U SPORTS is preparing for their season. Quarterback Theo Landers and offensive lineman Coulter Woodmansey opened eyes at the East West Bowl. And some of the elite fourth-year players in their draft year include receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker, linebacker AJ Allen, and defensive back Dotun Aketepe.
“My whole focus is Guelph football,” says Aketepe, who stays in touch with his former teammates now in the CFL. “You don’t get this time back. That’s something I’ve heard of and learned. I’ve seen a lot of people whose football careers ended in high school or ended with an injury.
“I understand that there could be a future in football but I have to enjoy this time right now. When that times comes, I’ll face it head on.”
And those are exactly the words of advice those players already at the next level have for the current Gryphons.
“Don’t look too far ahead,” says Ferraro. “Enjoy the moment you’re in, every meeting, every practice. The guys you go to university with are your brothers, your lifelong friends. That’s the most fun you’re going to have. As great as it is to play pro, and that is our goal, when you’re playing with your brothers at school, that’s the best.
“It goes faster than you think. You don’t know how good you have it until you’re gone.”
Augustine continues to stress the importance of work. The Blue Bomber players are expected to arrive at facilities about 8:30 in the morning but like most of his teammates, the former Gryphon gets there at 6:30 am. The days are long and the hours, as he says, are sometimes“ridiculous,” but Augustine understands the more work put in, the better the results.
“Hard work, dedication, heart and having a vision,” Augustine says. “It’s one thing to just say it. Action speaks louder than words. You have to take the steps. Not just in football but for life in general. If it means waking up an hour early to be prepared, then do that.
“Do not put things off. You have to have a clear path and act on it.”
written by: david dicenzo