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Learning from champions

In what is almost certainly a first for this province, aspiring young football players will be receiving one-on-one instruction from a Super Bowl champion and a Grey Cup winner when Football NL stages its first player/coach/parent football clinic early next month.

In this Jan. 11. 2015 file photo, Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (82) heads to the end zone to score on a 25-yard touchdown pass during the Seahawks’ 31-17 playoff victory over the Carolina Panthers in Seattle. Willson, a native of Ontario, will be a headliner when Football NL stages its first-ever player/coach/parent football clinic early next month in St. John’s.

Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson and Edmonton Eskimos receiver Akeem Foster headline the clinics slated for May 1-2 at the Johnson GEO Centre and the Techniplex in Pleasantville.

Willson, who hails from Lasalle, Ont., was a rookie tight end with the Seahawks in 2013 after being drafted out of Rice University in Houston. That same season, he helped Seattle win the Super Bowl, making a pair of catches for 17 yards in the Seahawks’ title victory over the Denver Broncos

This past season, the 25-year-old Willson had 22 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns for Seattle, which lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Foster, taken 25th overall by the B.C. Lions in the 2010 Canadian Football League draft, helped the Lions claim the 2011 Grey Cup with a 34-23 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The 28-year-old native of Ajax, Ont., had 33 receptions for 593 yards in 16 games that season. A product of St. Francis Xavier University, he was traded from the Lions to Winnipeg for quarterback Buck Pierce in 2013. He signed as a free agent with the Eskimos before last season.

In addition to the pair of pro players, Queens University head coach and 2009 Vanier Cup champion Pat Sheahan and York University assistant defensive coach Andrew Collymore will take part in the clinic, along with Mark Fitzgerald, owner/operator of Elite Training Systems in Whitby, Ont.

On Friday evening, at the Johnson GEO Centre, the five will take part in a round table discussion with the athletes and parents. Saturday, at the Techniplex, the five will work with the athletes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Personalized instruction is guaranteed for a minimum of 40 minutes.

“It’s open to any athlete who wants to take part,” said Football NL president Brian Hughes.

“The goal Friday is for our five guests to a) explain what their experience has been like playing or coaching university football and b) how to manage academics and football.

“With the start of Football NL, the opportunity is there for football players from this province to play university football. It all depends on how hard they want to work at it. The rosters on university football teams across the country are greater than any other sport, and there are 27 universities in Canada with football programs.”

The Football NL program is only in its second year and this past winter program involved 100 boys and girls. Counting the Bay Roberts area, that number will climb to 125-150 with the summer program.

Since its start, Football NL has been steadily moving forward, becoming a recognized sports governing body, and it’s received the support of the other provincial organizations.

“We are now part of the Football Canada family,” Hughes said.

In addition, Football NL now has 13 fully-trained coaches under Football Canada and the National Coaching Certification Program.

It looks forward to an exciting month of May, not only with the clinics, but also with a trip coming up to Sydney, N.S. May 14-18, the first of its kind outside the province for football.

“We’re taking 60 boys, or three teams,” Hughes said. “It’s their first competition against anybody other than themselves. There will be more.”

Hughes stresses the clinics are open to anybody. The cost for players in Grades 8-11 who want to participate in the Friday night session at the GEO Centre is $25. It’s $35 for adults and $60 if you wish to attend both the presentation and a reception.

On Saturday, it’s $85 for all players to take part in the clinic at the Techniplex, and $75 for adults to participate.

For the extra $10, the kids get an opportunity to win autographed game jerseys from Willson and Foster.

There is no charge for adults and parents who wish to simple view Saturday’s clinic.

For more information, email Brian Hughes ( or log on to

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