45 young men, all wearing grey t-shirts and red shorts, sporting one word – Canada – on each piece of clothing, running through the streets, singing at the top of their lungs at nine o’clock in the morning.
That’s what the folks walking the streets in Austin, Texas heading to work for the day were treated to back in 2012 when the Canadian National Junior team’s head coach, Noel Thorpe, took his players for a run through the city after defeating Team Japan and, in turn, advancing to the IFAF U-19 World Championship game against the United States.
“It was kind of army-like because as we ran through single-file, probably four in a row, and eight to 10 deep in players, we let every player sing one of their favourite songs,” the current Montreal Alouettes defensive coordinator laughed as he recalled the memory. “We were singing through the streets of Austin, Texas.”
To start 2017 on that same note – a chance to take over down south – is what 2017’s Canadian U18 and U19 teams are looking to do on January 28th, as the 2017 North American Championship takes place in Orlando, Florida where Canada and the U.S. meet as they work towards the 2018 IFAF U19 World Championship.
Meanwhile, back in 2012, with a spring, and a tune, in their step, Thorpe’s squad was headed down to the Red River, for what they later dubbed ‘swimming in the Red River’, where they dipped their toes in the grand body of water – the second of two memorable team bonding moments the head coach and his players did off the football field.
The first they called ‘Taking the State Capitol.’
Thorpe’s team embodied fearlessness and pride for their country while in the southern state and when they paid a visit to the Texas State Capitol, that was on full display.
He brought them – all 45 of them – to the Capitol where as a group they ran around the outside of the historic building, weaving in and around the monuments around the building, some of which recognized the military, veterans and fallen soldiers.
And that run wasn’t just to get the team warmed up before the tournament began – the workout meant a little bit more than that to Thorpe.
“We talked about these (monuments) being the building blocks of the state of Texas and how they’re fundamental to the building blocks of us winning this championship,” he said as he remembered why he brought his team to the Capitol. “At the end we knocked on the doors of the State Capitol, that were these huge oak doors, and we let them know that Canada was here to win this championship.”
“We talked about leading up to that game that Canada’s known for hockey, Justin Bieber and maple syrup … (and) we were going to let them know that we were also about football.”
Canada followed through with their word as they won the final game of the tournament – an upset against the favoured, defending champion United States team – and headed home north of the border with some new gold hardware. Proving their doubters wrong and defeating the U.S. on their own turf – in a state that housed some of the best football programs in the country – meant a lot to the team.
“We talked about leading up to that game that Canada’s known for hockey, Justin Bieber and maple syrup,” Thorpe said of his under-dog victory. “We used those words and that was part of the motivational speech before the game and we were going to let them know that we were also about football.”
All of the hard work put in to go down to Texas for the tournament – some players had to put on their own fundraisers to raise money to make the trip – was well worth it for Thorpe, the rest of the coaching staff and, of course, the 45 guys who excelled on the field when it mattered most.
“It was every bit up there at the same level as winning a Grey Cup,” Thorpe remembered, clearly still thrilled with his team’s accomplishment. “A lot of it was due to the kinship that was formed with the coaches, the players and the family members.”
Those relationships were made possible by Football Canada, the governing body for Canadian amateur football, who brought together players and coaches from all across the country. According to Thorpe, having the chance to play with the top national talent and for them to be showcased on a national stage is what makes Football Canada so special.
“You have individual PSO’s (provincial sport organizations) that govern their own football, policy and procedure from coast to coast,” Thorpe said. “When you look at the umbrella of that, which is Football Canada, to help galvanize and unite the country and come together (it’s a good thing).”
Football Canada gears up for another tournament on January 28th, as the U19 and U18 teams head to Orlando to compete in the 2017 North American Championship.
Both of Canada’s national teams will take on the USA national teams as they hope to do what Thorpe and his squad did in 2012 – take down the rival Americans in enemy territory – as they work towards the 2018 IFAF U19 World Championship.