April 22, 2019

Eskimos Bring Fun Flag Football Camps To Rural Alberta

The Eskimos have been busy making new fans and friends in rural Alberta recently.

Approximately 900 students between the ages of seven and 12 participated in free flag football introductory camps, autograph sessions and meet-and-greet sessions during four days of the third Edmonton Eskimos Community Tour, presented by Tim Hortons.

“Coming in to motivate and be a mentor for these kids is wonderful,” said fullback Tanner Green, a 2018 Eskimos draft pick who was involved with the Community Tour for the first time. ”They’re a super, energetic bunch. It’s a lot of fun. It gets me really excited for the upcoming season.”

“Just came out and had fun with the kids,” veteran defensive lineman Almondo Sewell said. “We went through a couple of football drills and played a couple of games. The kids obviously enjoyed themselves.”

Several current Eskimos players helped lead the camps when the Community Tour made stops at Lloydminster, Wainwright, Camrose and Red Deer.

“We were received very well at both Wainwright and Lloydminster, and everyone was super excited to have us out,” said long-snapper Ryan King, who was joined during the first two days of the tour by Sewell, fullback Calvin McCarty and linebacker/special teams Blair Smith.

Offensive linemen David Beard and Travis Bond, defensive lineman Mike Moore, punter Hugh O’Neill, defensive back Arjen Colquhoun and Green ran the camps during the final two days.

There were two flag football camps every day except for Wainwright, which had only one because the Eskimos visited the Canadian Armed Forces base in the morning. The camps were split into four sections – offence, defence, agility drills and bag drills.

“I was at the station where I was actually just trying to run them,” Sewell said about his duties. “Went through a couple of ladder drills. You can always tell who has really good feet, who has really bad feet going through the ladders. For the most part, after the first time, they all stumbled, but even the kids who weren’t at the hockey academy (in Lloydminster), they all went through it the second time. They understood it real quick and picked it up.”

Among the drills were races between two athletes weaving in and out of small cones, running with high knees, side-to-side shuffle steps, stepping over small bags, bouncing off a blocking pad and spinning to turn upfield and going one-on-one against a defensive player who is trying to grab the offensive player’s flag before he can race past him.

Oh yeah, there were also lessons on how to celebrate a good play.

“We played some games with them, and then we would rotate them through the circuit, so every kid was able to go through all four phases of our off-season prep,” King said. “We had a lot of good feedback from the parents and the kids, and they were all super excited to meet us and get autographs and take pictures.

“There was a lot of extra time allotted to hang out with the kids (in Wainwright), too, which was good. We got to meet all the family and friends of these kids as well.”

The second camp at Lloydminster’s Servus Sports Centre Field House involved 56 athletes from the LPSD Hockey Academy.

“Those kids are really athletic,” Sewell said. “You could tell they’ve been training for years. I was like, ‘Man, I wish I was that fast when I was that young.’ They were pretty talented.”

The Eskimos adjusted the camp for the hockey academy athletes to make it a little more challenging. McCarty was throwing long passes to the players and “working with them on the one-handed catch,” according to Sewell, referring to McCarty’s unique ability to make spectacular one-handed grabs.

“It was actually really fun because, collectively, they were very coachable,” King said. “When we were explaining drills, they were listening a lot because they were coming from a sports academy.”

At the Camrose Community Centre Field House, the Eskimos players had a meet-and-greet with the Camrose Buffaloes Football Association, which runs minor football programs.

After seeing the Community Tour in action, Green wishes he could have had an opportunity like this when he was growing up in Lacombe.

“That’s a big thing that I’m seeing and doing now,” Green said. “In doing this for these kids and showing them that with hard work, creating that work ethic and being able to play on a team and making friends who are going to be your family, it’s showing them where the journey can take them.

“It’s very important for me because, when I was a kid, I didn’t have that and I had to figure it out. It wasn’t until later that someone finally believed that I could go somewhere in football.”

The players also handed out gift cards to buy coffee and donuts in the Tim Hortons drive-through lineup in both Lloydminster and Red Deer (the driver or passengers would often have to give a hearty “Go Eskimos” cheer to earn the reward!) and also helped out behind the counter, sometimes making a pot of coffee.

“Any time we go out of town, you see the Tim Hortons have decorated the stores and put signs up, and everyone is telling everyone (about the Eskimos visit),” King said.