Unlike other professional sports leagues, the grassroots of Canadian football isn’t talked about nearly enough. Many people can name colleges that have produced top-end end NFL talent. Or perhaps name nearly every player off of the Canada roster in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Tournament. However, there are many young Canadain football players out there with stories, experiences and opinions of their own. I recently reached out to an old friend who has experience in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL), Logan Wall. He was kind enough to offer his thoughts on the current state of Canadian football, what needs to change and why he walked away.
On his time playing football in Medicine Hat, Alberta:
Q: Tell me what got you into football.
A: Originally, I was playing community soccer when I was 7 and a fellow parent happened to be part of the Medicine Hat Tackle Football Association. He was impressed by how big I was at that age and wanted me to play football. He recruited me to play and he has followed my football career and my life ever since and became a good friend.
Q: What was playing high-school football like in Medicine Hat?
A: Southern Alberta Football is some of the best football I have seen at that level. It was competitive, but the community support could always be improved. Even now it is getting better and better every year. Unfortunately, my team was not very good, and we didn’t win many games.
Q: Who were your biggest mentors prior to playing in the CJFL?
A: An old coach who took me under his wing and helped me develop not just as a football player but taught me a lot about life and becoming a man. His name is Rick Boxstein and he coached at my high school for almost 30 years. Rick has helped many players like me and pushed us to be the best we can be.
Another huge mentor in my life was my basketball coach BJ Melle. He trained me and helped me understand what it was like to be a part of a high-level program and the commitment it takes to improve yourself. [Melle] was the person who guided me in the weight room for four years. Both men are still a part of my life today and I consider them friends as well as mentors.
Q: What do you wish you had coming up through the ranks prior to the CJFL that you believe would benefit young players?
A: Having committed coaches who have experience at the next level is a huge asset to the development [of young football players] and I wish there were more summer programs and camps in the community to help young athletes develop.
On his time in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL):
Q: Give me a brief summary of your time in CJFL.
A: I was recruited to defensive end for the Calgary Colts was part of the rotation as a rookie and was awarded rookie All-Canadian in my position. I also played a lot of special teams because I showed a good work ethic and could long-snap. My second year I played defensive tackle and then, due to injuries halfway through the season, I was moved to offensive line and shuffled around every spot until I landed at center.
My next season was my final season and I played center and long snapper exclusively. I had a good year being part of in my opinion one the most impressive offensive lines I have seen in the CJFL. I remember a series against the [Saskatoon] Hilltops, we ran inside zone eight times in a row and scored just because our line could read and pick up blocks and we were all on the same page. It was quite impressive at the time.
Q: What was the biggest transition you had to make going from high-school to CJFL?
A: The speed of the game and the studying aspect. You need to know your playbook without exception. Furthermore, you need to study your opponent every week to play the best you can. Without it, you won’t last as a starter or in that league.
Q: What was it like having teammates that practiced with the professional teams?
A: I enjoyed it, they brought a lot back with them after their practices. They were willing to help and lead the team because they understood the professional mentality of the game compared to some of the other guys on the team.
The legitimacy of a CJFL to CFL pipeline:
Q: We often hear of the success story of Andrew Harris going from the CJFL, (V.I. Raiders) to the CFL. Do you feel as though there is a legitimate pipeline there or is the talent gap quite significant?
A: I believe there is a bit of a gap between the talent, unfortunately. U Sports Football has more resources and has education opportunities to recruit players. Whereas in the CJFL the teams cannot offer players much of anything. Aside from helping them find a job or a place to live. The CJFL cannot pay the players.
However, in a way, the football is some of the best because these players are there because they love the game. They are willing to sacrifice six nights a week to the game they love. On top of their life, whether that’s school or work and families, it is some of the most authentic and passionate football minds I have ever seen and I’m proud to have spent my time in that league.
On what needs to change in the Canadian game:
Q: What do you believe Canadian football lacks compared to its American counterpart?
A: Community support and committed knowledgeable coaches at every level from Atom to High-School. Along with just population sizes, I believe that is the biggest difference between them.
Q: If you could change one thing about your time playing beyond high-school, what would it be?
A: I wished I would have played a season of university football just to experience that level.
Q: What does Canadian Football need the most to become bigger than what it currently is?
A: Community support and the best quality coaching will help football expand. It’s an amazing team sport that teaches so many things about sport and life, I have a “build it and they will come” mentality. If you build quality programs, kids will want to be a part of it.
Q: What do you like most about Canadian football that you feel clubs and leagues should double down on?
A: Giving back to the younger leagues and coaching those kids. They will want to be just like their role models and they will commit to bigger and better things. But [first] we need to start them young and we need to coach them right.
On life beyond football:
Q: Do you regret anything about your time in football?
A: Maybe the broken bones but that’s it.
Q: Knowing what we know now about football and the impact it has on the brain (CTE), would you let your future child play football?
A: I would show them the opportunity and allow them to make that choice themselves. Just providing them with the option of playing would be enough for me to be a proud parent.
Q: What made you walk away from football?
A: I walked away from football because of my mental health. I have struggled with it from a young age and at this time in my life, it requires my full attention. Unfortunately, that meant giving up on my dreams. But at the end of the day, it was the best decision for me and it helped me learn there is more to life than football.
Logan is currently pursuing his Degree in Biology at the University of Lethbridge.
The Last Word
As Canadian football and athletics continue progressing, there needs to be increased importance on growing these sports at the grassroots level. Football Canada appears to be taking steps to increase participation at the youth level. However, it is vital that more stories such as Logan’s are told to ensure we are giving future young Canadian athletes a platform to succeed.