Talking first downs and touchdowns with Cole Goodfellow

The Blues running back has dreams of making the CFL

Talking first downs and touchdowns with Cole Goodfellow

Driven, determined, and passionate. In an interview with The Varsity, University of Toronto Varsity Blues running back Cole Goodfellow covers ground on his life and what it means to play football.

From being high school MVP to receiving an entrance scholarship to play football for the Varsity Blues, being able to play football means everything to the number 34 Blue. “I feel like football is such a big part of my life now,” Goodfellow explains. Through tough training and maintaining grades, he’s strongly committed to the game he has loved for years. The opportunity to be on the starting lineup shows the kind of athlete he is and that coaches can trust him to execute plays and be a leader on the field.

“For me, [being a starter] doesn’t affect [my performance]. Either way I’ve got to be in the game, either way I need to be physically and mentally prepared to step in anytime,” Goodfellow says.

Thirty-four has always been his number: “it is really significant to me because it resembles Walter Payton and he wasn’t known for his speed, his power or his height or anything like that, he was known for his heart. That’s what I model my game after.”

Having the opportunity to speak one-on-one with him provides insight on how seriously he takes his role on the Blues. Playing football for many is more than just a game; it’s deeper than just win or loss. Athletes like Goodfellow play their sport out of passion.

One of the hardest lessons learnt from the Varsity experience, Goodfellow says, is “probably resilience and patience, to never give up… Know that hard work doesn’t go unrewarded.”

Goodfellow’s passion for football started as a young kid, when he and his brother would dream of someday playing in the Canadian Football League (CFL), making their love for football a full-time profession. “My goal is to get to the CFL, and to show that coming from a small town you can do whatever your dreams and desires ask, to not be limited or stuck in one position.”

His favourite part of being a running back is getting past a defender and then scoring. He feels there is no better feeling than dominating the other player in the role they were supposed to dominate and then scoring to put your team ahead.

The life of a student athlete isn’t all touchdowns and winning plays — “free time goes toward studying, free time goes to sleeping [and] nutrition to be prepared for practice and games.”

As the season draws to a close, the Blues currently sit in 10th place out of 11 OUA teams.

Through the 2017 football season, the Blues have had some tough luck, winning just one of their first six games. However, the team is still poised to come out strong and be prepared for the next challenge.

On September 23, the York Lions reclaimed their victory in the 48th annual Red and Blue Bowl hosted at Alumni Field, ending the Blues’ four-year win streak. Starting running back Kaleb Leach had some strong plays as he made 14 carries for 70 yards, while Goodfellow rushed seven times for 46 yards in the game.

Although the Blues lost their winning streak and title, Goodfellow explains that winning isn’t everything.“I would probably say just to remember why you do the sport. Remember the enjoyment of it. If you lose the enjoyment of it it’s really hard to continue going, it’s really hard to motivate yourself. But if you remember you enjoy it and you love the game then you’ll keep pushing no matter what happens.”

No matter the outcomes of his games, Goodfellow strives for success. “If it’s a loss I’ve got to put in even more work and really push myself and drive myself to be perfect in my craft,” he notes. “It’s not enough to go out there and do what is asked of you, you’ve got to do above and beyond that.”

The Varsity Blues will play their final home game against Queen’s University on October 21 at 1:00 pm.

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

Will regional performances be enough to attract the attention of CFL scouts?

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

With the CFL draft approaching, it’s time to get to know the CFL Toronto Combine, which took place from March 10 to 13. The combine, broadly put, is a showcase of this year’s CFL prospects.

The participants for the national combine are chosen from three regional combines, but a high quality performance at a regional combine does not guarantee a national combine appearance.

In the 2014 regional combine, former Varsity Blue Christopher Johnson posted the fastest 40-yard dash time, highest vertical jump, and longest broad jump among linebackers. In spite of these accomplishments, he did not receive an invite to the national combine.

As important as exposure is to the draft, the national combine is not the only way CFL scouts evaluate athletes. While the combine can boost a player’s draft stock, scouts take an athlete’s entire body of work into consideration — this includes studying tapes of games, interviews with coaches and players, and regional combine results.

This year, a total of four Blues — DJ Sackey, Boris Isakov, Zack Lukings, and Farouk Musa — competed at the regional combine. Although none received invites to the national combine, this should not necessarily dissuade their draft stock.

Third-year offensive lineman Sackey will have another year with the Blues, while Isakov, Lukings, and Musa will have to hope that their current accomplishments are enough to get them invited to a CFL roster. While Sackey can be confident in his second place finish amongst lineman in the vertical leap, he looks to improve on his bench press and broad jump measurements.

Musa, who graduated in 2014, is hoping to crack a roster somewhere in the CFL after posting a 4.927 second 40-yard dash time. That time was good enough for third place at the regional combine among linebackers; the only two ahead of him were NCAA products.

Meanwhile, fellow graduate Zack Lukings posted the second fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive lineman, at 5.194.

Isakov, who transferred to the Blues in 2013 from the Queen’s Gaels, led the Blues in receiving yards in 2015. He had assumed his football playing days were over once the season ended. Then the CFL came calling. “I thought my football career was over,” said Isakov, “that’s when coach asked me to come in and told me there’s a couple of CFL teams that were interested in seeing what I could do.”

At the regional combine, Isakov posted a 4.31 second shuttle cone drill time, good for fourth among all participants at the combine. He says the environment around him helped. “Just to have friends and family and teammates and everyone there supporting… I feel like that really pushed me to have better results and a lot of drills I had personal bests because of that.”

These prospects, coming from both the CIS and the NCAA, put themselves through a gauntlet of football skill-testing drills in front of CFL scouts. With the stakes so high, the pressure can cause some to crack.

In spite of that pressure, several recent Blues have excelled at the combine. Prior to this year’s combine, former Blue Aaron Milton finished top amongst running backs in the 3-cone and short shuttle drills. Milton received a bid to the national combine that year, and he now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Although there were no Blues invited to this years national combine, Christopher Johnson’s story may leave the Blues hopeful that CFL signing can still happen. The extra exposure Aaron Milton received from the national combine likely helped his draft stock. Exposure at the combine is important, however, it is far from integral. Isakov, Musa, and Lukings, may have hope that their portfolios are impressive enough to warrant a draft pick.

For Sackey, he may hope the that if he doesn’t get drafted this year, an additional year of eligibility will catch the eyes of scouts across the CFL.

The Grey Cup and the CFL: Canada’s lost tradition

Would anyone really miss the CFL?

The Grey Cup and the CFL: Canada’s lost tradition

On November 29, the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the one hundred and third playing of the CFL’s championship Grey Cup.

The CFL played its version of the Super Bowl alongside a number of exciting storylines. The Eskimos were looking to capture their fourteenth Grey Cup, 10 years removed from their last. After suffering through a 2-16 record last year, Redblacks’ quarterback Henry Burris helped catapult the team to the top of the Eastern Conference and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.

The effectiveness of new rules regarding coach challenges and pass interference introduced at the beginning of the season were also a major topic of conversation, however the most pressing issue up for discussion was a perennial one: will the CFL survive? For as long as the CFL has been around, there have been questions surrounding the league’s financial status.

In an age where the NFL has asserted itself as a cultural phenomenon and money printing machine, the CFL faces down television ratings — the league’s Canadian broadcaster TSN reported a 15 per cent drop in ratings from last season. These factors do not seem to equate to a sustainable franchise. The CFL cannot compete with the NFL in terms of money or branding, but maybe it’s wrong to think of the two as competitors.

The CFL season runs from June to November, the NFL season from September to February. The CFL allows a team with the ball only three tries to make a first down, while the NFL allows a team four. A CFL field is a full 20 yards larger than an NFL field. Where the smaller NFL field and more downs favours running the ball and making high-percentage plays for short yards, the CFL rules force teams to take more risks and look for big plays more often.

Watching an NFL game is like watching a chess match, watching a CFL game is like watching fencing. They require many of the same skills, but the strategies and execution unique to each are what make them entertaining and distinct from one another. The best football players in the world play in the NFL, no question there, but that doesn’t mean that the CFL players are bad.

Kerry Joseph played three years in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks before playing 12 years in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 2007 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Most famously, Warren Moon, one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play football, won five Grey Cups, a Rose Bowl in college, and nine NFL all-star selections, becoming an ambassador for both leagues and a gold standard for football’s most important position. The CFL, however, is more than its players or rules — it’s a tradition.

For over 100 years Canadians have come together to celebrate what makes us who we are at the Grey Cup. The CFL has never been about marketing, or paying the highest salaries, and neither has Canada. We have endured not because we were the most important, but because of an inherent sense of self-importance, proven by that endurance.

Will the CFL grow to eclipse the NFL? No, and we like it that way. Football is about football. And the CFL is about Canada.