High School Football in Canada
Canada is a country known to most outsiders for its prominence in hockey, however its abundance of talented young football players is beginning to gain more attention. While there have always been successful Canadian professional football players, one change that is occurring is the route that many young athletes are taking to get to the highest levels of the sport. Current professionals Israel Idonije, OJ Atogwe and Kamau Peterson have all helped prove that the Canadian high school football system is more than capable of producing elite football players. In addition to these successful Canadian role models to look up to, Shomari Williams of the Saskatchewan Roughriders has proven himself to be a valuable resource to young athletes hoping to develop their careers past the high school level.
Players like OJ Atogwe and Kamau Peterson grew up playing football in Canada and certainly benefited from their time playing in the Canadian high school system. Atogwe was a star in football as well as basketball, track and soccer during his 4 years at W.F. Herman Secondary School in Windsor, Ontario while Peterson was also a multi-sport athlete (football and track) at Sandwich Secondary School in LaSalle, Ontario. Both players were exceptional high school athletes that proved that no matter where the talent is located, university and college recruiters will find them as they both enjoyed successful careers at Stanford and the University of Memphis, respectively.
The path that Israel Idonije took to the NFL is by no means a conventional one, but it does highlight the keen eye for talent that Canadian high school coaches possess. After moving to Manitoba from Lagos, Nigeria when he was just 4, Idonije began playing hockey like most Canadian kids but soon found that basketball was his passion. It wasn’t until grade 12 that the 6’ 6” Idonije was finally convinced by Vincent Massey Vikings head coach Kevin Grindey to give football a try. Even after playing just one season, Idonije displayed such great raw talent that Grindey knew he was going to become a special football player. After the high school season wrapped up, Grindey urged Idonije to continue pursuing football as a career, and sure enough, Idonije was offered a full athletic scholarship to the University of Manitoba on the spot while at a tryout for a provincial team. Idonije enjoyed four years with the Bison before being noticed by a scout for the Cleveland Browns. He signed with the Browns before eventually ending up with the Chicago Bears, the team on which he has played an integral role for the last seven seasons.
As a 26-year old about to enter his second season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Shomari Williams has made a contribution to the Canadian football landscape that is impressive to say the least and he is only just getting started. Similar to the players above, Williams’ career began in Canada where he was a star athlete at both North Park Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario and Chaplain Regional Prep in Lennoxville, Quebec. He credits his high school coaches for not only helping him develop as a football player, but for instilling the importance of consistently pushing himself and striving to do better in all endeavours, a valuable lesson that is applicable to all facets of life. “I had great coaches in high school,” he says. “They helped me see that even though I may have been the best on my team or the best in the league, there was always somebody working as hard as me, and if I wanted to become great, I had to keep working.”
Even as he was excelling on the field, Williams never lost sight of the importance of academics and ensured that they were always the priority. “It was all a balancing act – I made sure I took care of my homework and projects before anything else.” This dedication to school work would pay off for Williams, as his performance both on and off the field helped him land a full scholarship to the University of Houston.
Williams enjoyed a three-year playing career in Houston and after he graduated with a BBA in Entrepreneurship, he decided to move back home to Canada to attend Queen’s University. While pursuing his Education degree, Williams was a standout on the Queen’s Golden Gaels and caught the attention of CFL scouts. In the 2010 CFL Canadian college draft the Saskatchewan Roughriders traded up just to ensure they could select Williams with the first pick, a clear indication of the promise that Williams demonstrated.
While his climb to the CFL is impressive enough and makes him an excellent role model, it is Williams’ efforts to increase the visibility of Canadian high school athletes that could be the most significant contribution he makes. Having witnessed and experienced the challenges that high school athletes face while trying to gain visibility with college and university recruiters, Williams has put his entrepreneurial acumen to work with the launch of Top Prospects.
As Canada’s first online recruiting system available to young Canadian athletes, Top Prospects aims to help Canadian high school football and basketball players earn scholarships to universities and colleges in Canada. By providing athletes with a strong online presence, Top Prospects has helped ease the recruitment process and will subsequently lead to more high school athletes being given the opportunity to continue their playing careers past high school. The aforementioned players have all proved that it is indeed possible for Canadian athletes to make their way to the professional level and Top Prospects is a great tool that will surely make it an easier climb for future generations.
The popularity and growth of high school football in Canada is apparent with almost 900 high school teams currently in existence. With the above role models and resources currently available to high school athletes, there is sure to be many more generations of professional players to continue building on the foundation that Shomari Williams, Israel Idonije and OJ Atogwe have built.