The Guelph Gryphons hope the trend of attracting Team Ontario players to their team continues.
The Gryphons got a good chance to see some of the top players in the province when the Ontario Football Alliance held its annual Red vs. Black weekend at the University of Guelph. The weekend is the final selection camp for the Team Ontario under-18 squad.
While the players, all eligible to be part of the 2018 recruiting class, were in Guelph to try to land a spot on the provincial team that will play in this summer’s Canada Cup national championship tournament at Nova Scotia, the weekend also gave them a chance to see the Gryphons’ facilities.
“It’s just great that we get to showcase what we have here,” said Gryphons director of recruiting Todd Galloway. “We think we have a great facility and great everything and this gives us the opportunity to show these kids what we have to offer.”
The Gryphons’ 2017 recruiting class that stands at 52 includes six players who were at last year’s Red vs. Black weekend that was also held at Alumni Stadium.
“There’s some more great talent out here,” Galloway said. “We presented at the (weekend’s) banquet that almost 30 per cent of our kids are Team Ontario kids. It’s a tradition we want to keep and that’s why we showcase and show off what we have.”
The players also got a chance to experience university coaching as all of the coaches who participated in the evaluation camp or are members of the Team Ontario coaching staff are also members of OUA coaching staffs. They included Adam Grandy, the Gryphon defensive co-ordinator who is the special teams coach and a defensive assistant with Team Ontario.
“It was a lot of fun in terms of working with 90 of the top players in the province,” he said. “It’s a unique experience for them because we throw a lot at them in terms of meetings and the two-a-day practices. You’re not sure what background all these players come from in terms of what they do in their summer football or high school so we’re throwing a lot of information at them and we’re trying to evaluate everything.”
Among the coaches who joined for the weekend were two Gryphon assistant coaches, Brian Cluff and Matt Nesbitt.
The players included a pair of local District 10 high school players Tanner Nelmes and Pawel Szymanski, teammates with the St. James Lions who are also to be teammates with the Guelph Junior Gryphons in the Ontario Provincial Football League’s varsity division this summer.
“I was pretty anxious at first, but once you settle in with all the guys it’s a good tempo,” running back Nelmes said.
“I’m pretty nervous, but once I get on the field they sort of float away,” defensive back Szymanski said. “It’s pretty intense. There’s a lot of competition, which is good. Everybody gets a lot better and it’s exciting to come out here and play with the top 90.”
Both took the opportunity to learn from the university coaches.
“It’s just perfecting all the little things rather than the general things,” Nelmes said. “It’s more advanced, a lot of coaches putting together their ideas and you take out from that. There’s a lot of knowledge and stuff, a lot of ideas going together.”
“Education is most important and also getting lower with my pedal and breaking on the ball and stuff like that,” Szymanski said of the main things he learned. “You’ve got to think it through and take everything that the coaches tell you.”
For Grandy and other members of the Team Canada staff, they’ll get together to evaluate the performance of the players, and that will include watching a lot of film shot during the weekend. That likely became a little more necessary as the Red vs. Black game was not a close one. Black won 42-5 and there were three blocked punts returned for touchdowns.
“That’s why we filmed everything from practice,” Grandy said.
And the coaches will also talk about things that weren’t filmed.
“How the kids handle themselves in meetings and how they go about their preparations, that’s important,” Grandy said. “Then we’ll go through the game film with a fine-tooth comb just to see if maybe we missed something on a player. Yeah, it is difficult but at the end of the day players have to make the most of their opportunities and at a short camp like this, that’s their opportunity. If they shine, it’s probably good for them. If not, we’ll have to do some further evaluation.”
The Gryphons and other OUA teams represented at the camp will also do some evaluating of their own.
“It’s a competitive recruiting environment, but we welcome it,” Galloway said. “We want what’s best for the kids so we like the other coaches to come on and see what our vibe is and understand why these kids love Guelph, but at the end of the day the kids have to go where their heart is. We hope it’s here, but if it’s not we wish them well.”