Local football pros like Vincent Massey graduate Israel Idonije of the Detroit Lions serve as inspiration for the kids back home.
Brandon has always had its share of hockey heroes, with homegrown NHLers Matt Calvert, Ryan White and Bryce Salvador and a plethora of former Wheat Kings the latest in a long line of players for local youngsters to idolize.
But Brandon is also making a name for itself once again on the football field, with the likes of Israel Idonije, Chris Bauman and Landon Rice the latest pro players produced right here in the Wheat City.
For Vincent Massey Vikings football coach Mike Steeves, their success is inspiring the next generation of players to pick up a sport that is thriving at the youth and high school levels in Brandon, with Vincent Massey, Crocus Plains and Neelin all playing in the Winnipeg High School Football League.
"For us as a program and for us as a city, we have so many people in hockey with the Wheat Kings from (Wade) Redden to Calvert and all those guys that kids in the hockey world here have so many players to look up to," Steeves said. "But for years and years when I grew up here, my babysitter was (former CFL punter) Glenn Harper and he went and played college football and went on to win five Grey Cups, so those are the guys that I looked up to. And for kids nowadays to have an actual NFL football player and CFL football players (from Brandon), it’s great for them."
Back in the late 1990s, Brandon was represented by four players in the CFL with brothers Craig and Scott Hendrickson, Derek Sholdice and Harper, who have all since retired from the game. Idonije’s meteoric rise from a raw Grade 12 rookie at Vincent Massey to a starter in the NFL kicked off a new era for the sport in the Wheat City. Idonije was soon joined in the pro ranks by Bauman, another Vikings graduate who became the first overall pick in the 2007 CFL draft, with Rice the latest to sign a pro contract as a CFL rookie this season.
After nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Idonije is now in his first year on the defensive line of the Detroit Lions, opening the season with a pair of tackles in a 34-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.
For his part, Bauman hopes to get back in the Calgary Stampeders’ lineup shortly after recovering from a broken wrist he suffered in June that derailed what was by all accounts a fantastic start to training camp for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver. Meanwhile, Rice is biding his time as a rookie offensive lineman on the practice roster in Hamilton, with the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Crocus Plains graduate just an injury away from cracking the Tiger-Cats lineup.
For young players in the Wheat City, they serve as more than just inspiration and motivation, but as role models.
"It’s nice to have a guy like Chris Bauman, he comes back and he will work out with our program and do some running and it’s great for the kids to see that," Steeves said. "This is a guy who went to the same school, played on the same field and had the same coaches. It’s that little bit of extra boost, that little bit of confidence that maybe it’s not an unrealistic goal (to make the pro ranks) ...
"For us as coaches, it’s neat to have guys go on (and play pro), but all those guys are also great individuals. Not only are they playing at the highest level of football they can, they are showing how to do it properly, with Izzy and all his (charitable) foundations and Bauman does a lot of nice things, too. And that goes a long way."
It may not be long before Idonije, Bauman and Rice are joined in the pro ranks by the next wave of Wheat City talent.
Massey graduate Keegan Treloar could be the next in line as the third-year kicker continues to hone his craft at the football factory of Concordia University that has produced the likes of current CFL kickers Mike Renaud of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Rene Parades of the Stampeders.
"I think (Treloar) is probably the closest to anyone we’ve had in the last little while, with the success that he’s had … and he’s got a great work ethic," Steeves said. "Kicking is so unrewarding and you have to go by yourself and kick and kick and kick and you have to be a certain breed of person to want to do that and he’s definitely got it."
Treloar is off to a perfect start to the CIS season, going 3-for-3 in field goals (with a longest boot of 42 yards) in two games. He is one of three Brandonites who are starters at university programs in Canada, along with Neelin graduate Connor Ketchen, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker with the Regina Rams, and fellow Neelin product Nevin Gamblin, a 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior offensive lineman with the Manitoba Bisons. Ketchen has had a strong start to his sophomore season with eight tackles in two games, and an interception he returned 59 yards to set up a Rams’ TD.
Ketchen has been joined on the Rams by three rookies out of Brandon in Michael Bright (Vincent Massey), Dylan Minshull (Neelin) and Brandon Williams (Neelin), while Taylor Maloney (Crocus Plains) is playing for Minot State University and Bryce Keilback (Neelin) is also in North Dakota, suiting up for Dickinson State.
It will be interesting to see who joins Idonije, Bauman and Rice as the next Brandonite to play pro one day.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 13, 2013