By Greg Price
Several local football players have qualified for the ABC Border Bowl showcase event, consisting of all-star games between Alberta and British Columbia.
“The idea is to give an opportunity for players outside of Calgary and Edmonton, who are often left out of the spotlight, despite being on the same talent level as the city players,” said Jason Jensen, defensive co-ordinator for the W.R. Myers Rebels football team and president and coaching director of Taber Rebels football.
There are four teams selected which include Rising Stars (Grades 10-11), Rising Stars Selects (Grade 9-10), Future Stars (Grades 8-9), and Young Stars (Grade 6-7).
From the high school ranks, Ashton Werewka and Kadin Reynolds were selected to the Rising Stars Selects Team, with Evan Harkness and Mike Sawatzky making the Rising Stars Team.
Tryouts were held across the province through the middle of May, with local players attending the Lethbridge tryouts on Feb 17.
The players were notified on Feb. 28, but the rosters were not officially announced until last week.
“I attended the tryouts, and I was pretty impressed with how our boys stacked up with the rest of the competition. These style of tryouts can be tricky, as they were conducted with no pads, and was only around two hours long. You can’t be entirely sure how they’re evaluating the players, and it’s a short window to make an impression regardless,” said Jensen. “As it was, our boys really came to play. It was a little nerve wracking for them to start with, but I think once they got our there and realized that they could compete with any of the other players there, they all really settled down, and showed what they could do.”
Jensen noted Reynolds grabbed the attention of scouts with his 40-yard dash and his sure hands.
“He was working with the wide receivers group, and I’m not sure if I ever saw him drop a pass,” said Jensen, adding Werewka worked out with the lineman and were so impressed with his agility, he became a social media star with footage on Facebook. “Being as they weren’t in pads, they weren’t really able to run full strength blocking drills, so I think it was extra important for the linemen to impress with their agility.”
Mike Sawatzky worked with the defensive backs group and Evan Harkness with the running back and linebacker groups which left Jensen thoroughly impressed as were the Rising Stars coaches.
“Honestly, that may have been the best I have ever seen Mike play. He performed well in the drills, and was absolutely lights out in pass coverage. From what I understand, they didn’t take very many Grade 10 players for the Rising Stars team, so that just goes to show how much he stood out that day,” said Jensen. “Evan Harkness was initially with the runningbacks group, and quickly showed why he was named league MVP last season. He looked great in the speed and agility drills, and even saw some time at linebacker in the scrimmage drills. After the tryout, several of the coaches came up to me to ask me questions about Evan, so I was pretty sure he had made it.”
The peewee Rebels team saw some of its players make the Border Bowl as well on the Young Stars team.
Mason Werewka will be suiting up at running back or safety.
“He more than blew the coaches away with his natural athleticism and speed. His play-making ability once he’s got the ball makes him hard to defend,” said Jamie O’Connor, head coach of the Taber peewee football team for the 2016 fall season. “His speed out in the open makes it hard for any player to beat him one-on-one defensively.”
Although only his first year playing football, Kyler James came off like a grizzled veteran among the scouts to secure his spot.
“Kyler James will be suiting up on the ‘D’ line. For a young man that’s playing his first year of football, the progress he has made is amazing,” said O’Connor. “He looks like he is a player that has played his whole life out there with his size and speed which makes him a threat on every down.”
Aiden O’Connor will be playing as quarterback or wide receiver.
“Aiden O’Connor was working with the quarterbacks, and definitely showed he belonged. That’s a position that always has a lot of competition for only a few spots, so that tells you right there that Aiden impressed his coaches,” said Jensen.
This year it is Alberta’s turn to host the ABC Border Bowl which will run May 27 at the University of Lethbridge for all four teams.
“This is the fifth year for this event, and it has grown each year. In the past, we had only really had one player express much interest in trying out, that being Thane Buckingham. I think Thane’s success with the Border Bowl may have had a hand in inspiring some other players to give it a try,” said Jensen. “Having seven players selected for an event like this speaks well of our program, and the direction in which it’s headed. The three Young Stars-aged players will be stepping up to the bantam team, and this experience should really benefit them, as they try and fill the shoes vacated by the players graduating to high school football. All four of the high-school age players will be back on the field for us this fall, which should go a long way to helping defender Jerry Dawson Trophy, and hopefully making another provincials run.”