The long list of the game’s alumni reads like a who’s who of Manitoba professional football players.
NFLer Israel Idonije, for instance, played in the annual Blue and Gold Classic. And so too did Edmonton Eskimos linemen Eddie Steele, Kyle Koch and Don Oramasionwu.
The list goes on and on for an annual celebration of local youth football that will have its 28th renewal this Saturday at East Side Eagles Field. But the point is this: these kids are good, really good.
Take St. Paul’s High School running back Alex Taylor, who was named an all-star at last year’s Football Canada Cup in London, Ont. and will suit up in this weekend’s Under-18 game.
With a deep football pedigree — his cousin is former CFLer and current Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant Markus Howell — along with all kinds of on-field talent and good grades off of it, the 17-year-old Grade 11 student has all the early makings of the Next One to come out of Manitoba.
Heck, he even looks a little like BC Lions star running back — and native Winnipegger — Andrew Harris.
"Obviously what Andrew Harris did was pretty spectacular, coming out of Winnipeg as a high school student," Taylor said today as Football Manitoba held a pre-game news conference at Buck’s Sports Lounge.
"And obviously that’s something I’d like to do too, being another small Winnipeg guy to make it to the big leagues."
Taylor says he’s hopeful that the combination of his success on the field and in the classroom will merit a university scholarship down the road, maybe to even a big U.S. school.
Bombers QB Buck Pierce — who will be the honorary coach of one of the two Under-16 teams on Saturday — came out of one of those big U.S. colleges, New Mexico State.
While youth football in Manitoba will never be as big as it is in the U.S., Pierce -- who recalled today playing in front of crowds as big as 13,000 when he was in high school -- says he thinks football has grown in Manitoba in just the four years he’s lived here.
"I think it’s getting bigger here, I really do," said Pierce. "I think the (Football Manitoba) guys here have done a really good job of showcasing the athletes, giving them a chance to put their skills on a national level. I’m seeing more and more high school kids here saying, ‘Hey, football might be a chance for me to go to school and get a better education. Football could be my catalyst to my next phase in life.’
"And that’s what football should be all about."
Fourteen-year-old Colby Kyliuk is on the same page with Pierce in that regard.
"This is a really great experience. It’s a brand new experience for me and I really feel fortunate to be able to play in this game," said Kyliuk, a quarterback for the St. Vital Mustangs who will suit up in Saturday’s Under-16 game.
"I definitely have some aspirations to reach my dreams and go for my goals."