Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

High schoolers eager to impress at Blue & Gold Classic

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A half dozen of this province's top football prospects were huddled together in spiffy new Blue & Gold Classic jerseys, every one of them bursting with that can't-wait-to-hit-somebody enthusiasm.

Watching the scene unfold is Eddie Steele -- the Hamilton Tiger-Cat defensive lineman and alumnus of the University of Manitoba, the Blue & Gold game and the provincial team -- who glances over at the young talent and observes:

"They're all amped up and they're all thinking they're 'The Man' right now," Steele said with a smile. "I know that feeling. It's a good thing. It's great for these guys."

This Saturday 109 of the best junior varsity and 100 of the top varsity players will take part in the the 27th annual Blue and Gold Classic games at the East Side Eagles football facility. The JV players are battling to earn spots on the Winnipeg East and Winnipeg West squads that will participate in the Red River Cup at the University of Manitoba in July.

And the top high school talent will be vying for a place on the Manitoba under-18 team that will be showcased at the Football Canada Cup in July in London, Ont.

"It's a measuring stick for them against the best athletes in the province to see what they need to do to improve," explained under-18 provincial head coach Rob Baillie, who is also the Winnipeg Rifles defensive co-ordinator. "And for the kids that carry on to the Canada Cup, it's an opportunity for them to showcase their talents at the national level in front of coaches from the CIS, NCAA and junior programs.

"It opens up a lot of options for the kids from an educational standpoint and just for an athlete playing football."

Leon Cenerini is one of those players who is already weighing those possibilities. The St. Paul's Crusaders linebacker participated in last year's Canada Cup team and, as a 16-year-old, even won the bench-press competition against players from all over the country.

"Last year I had a total blast at the Canada Cup," said Cenerini. "But first and foremost the Blue & Gold Classic is an awesome opportunity to play against talent you wouldn't necessarily face in the high school league. You're playing against all the best guys in the province, so it's nice to see where you measure up.

"And then the Canada Cup is a huge opportunity to get noticed by (CIS and NCAA) teams and hopefully bring back a gold for Manitoba."

The graduates of this Blue & Gold Classic include a who's who of Manitoba football, including current pros Izzy Idonije (Chicago Bears), Eddie Steele (Tiger-Cats), Kyle Koch, Don Oramasionwu and Donovan Alexander (Edmonton Eskimos) and Andrew Harris (B.C. Lions).

"Absolutely playing in this game helped me," said Steele. "I feel it really kick-started my career. Playing in this game really gives you exposure to better competition and because you're under a spotlight it can help give you an opportunity.

"It's motivation. I was one of the better players in high school, but it helps your confidence when you get picked for these kind of events. It makes you feel like you belong in the upper echelon.

"I was one of those guys who saw I was close, but had so much work to do. I picked it up, got my butt in gear and it's all worked out for me." Twitter: @WFPEdTait





When: Saturday; under-16 game goes at 10:30 a.m.; under-18 kickoff is 1:30 p.m.

Where: East Side Eagles Field, 723 London Street

Admission: Tickets for both games are $5 and available at the gate

Honorary coaches: Bomber QB Buck Pierce, LB Marcellus Bowman; Bomber alumni Kelly Butler and Brett MacNeil.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2012 C4

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