THE best 16-and-under football players from across Western Canada will gather in Winnipeg to compete in the city's grandest football facility. Investors Group Field will host the Red River Cup, Canada's premier under-16 invitational football tournament July 6-13.
This is the fourth-annual tournament and the program has proven successful for young players looking to make an impact on scouts who are on the lookout for future stars. John Makie, Football Manitoba's director of operations, said 18 players have gone on to CIS or CJFL programs from the inaugural tournament in 2010.
This year's tournament has the added benefit of being hosted at the brand-new Investors Group Field. The Red River Cup will be the first amateur football event held at the new stadium.
But Makie said it was a lot of hard work.
"It was a lot of negotiation and a lot red tape. You know, can we do it? It almost came down to the last minute but the Winnipeg Football Club has been nothing but supportive of community football, and amateur football at that," Makie said.
Jalen Burley will represent Winnipeg East in his first Red River Cup. The 14-year-old running back is excited to get on the gridiron and do two of the things he loves the most.
"I like the team aspect of it and making friends as well as hitting people. I like the contact and I just love the sport," Burley said. "It's an honour to know I'm playing with the best athletes in Manitoba. Plus, with the scouts being there to watch, this is a huge opportunity for me."
Burley, like many of the athletes participating in the Red River Cup, has dreams of making it to the NFL and playing in Investors Group Field is a stellar stepping stone.
"To know we're the first amateur teams to be playing there is a dream, pretty much. Hopefully, I can take it farther from here," Burley said. "I want to take it as far as I can and I want to set my goals high."
The Red River Cup has previously been held at smaller venues in Winnipeg and Brandon. But Makie is pleased all of the hard work has paid off to allow these future football stars an opportunity of a lifetime.
"My passion towards this tournament is just to see the kids when they come out to the field and they really feel like they've made it," Makie said.
"Even last year, when we had it on the University of Manitoba campus, it's sometimes the first time these kids get to play on turf. But to play in a gargantuan structure like the Investors Group Field and with the Jumbotron on, I'm pretty sure we're going to see a lot of jaws dropping from the kids and that's what it's all about."