SILVER SPRING – Crossing an international border has become a weekly routine for Canadian High School football program Football North.
On Nov. 18, the team from Mississauga, Ontario made its last of nine trips to the United States, arriving at Martin Luther King Recreation Park to shut out Avalon 36-0.
Football North, a specialty American Football program attached to an ordinary Canadian High School, has played all eight of their games this year on the road during their inaugural season.
While Canadians have long played on the gridiron, Football North is a rare program as it forgoes the traditional Canadian style of the game of three downs and 12 players on each side of the ball in favor of the four downs and 11 players style played in the U.S.
Football North, a part of Clarkson Secondary School outside of Toronto, is an elite specialty program meant to help prospective young Canadian boys learn the American game and hopefully catch the eye of college scouts.
“American football is a lot more competitive, the players are a lot better,” said Nicholas DeJesus, a player on Football North. “We’re just trying to go D-1 down here, trying to get a scholarship. The game is a lot better down here.”
DeJesus said he grew up playing youth Canadian football, but made the switch when he reached high school to American football realizing the American game may provide more opportunities for him down the road, including the possibility of a scholarship to American college to play football.
While Friday night lights is an American staple, football takes a backseat north of the border since the Canadian national pastime is hockey.
While hockey is much more of a minor sport in the United State when compared to football, the reverse is true in Canada.
“Who’s the best in football? If you’re going to play hockey, where would you go? So we want our athletes to be challenged and to play the best,” said Football North Head Coach Larry Jusdanis.
Ironically for Jusdanis, he is a former quarterback in the Canadian Football League (CFL) leading a program that could put Canada’s best young athletes on a track to the National Football League, not the CFL.
This season, Football North has played all eight of its games on the road, meaning each week the team and their family would cross the American border, making long trips to Ohio Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Robert Cepecauer, father of offensive lineman Colin Cepecauer, said he has made the trip south to watch his son play every game.
“The reason he came down is because he wants more opportunity to play,” Cepecauer said.
Football North had to play all its games in the U.S. due to a lack of a field at home.
Next season, Football North will entertain American teams, including Avalon.
“We’re going up there next year, we already agreed on a game, so we’ll travel up there to against them and try to regain American football status,” said Avalon Head Coach Tyree Spinner.
While a Canadian school playing American football may be a surprise to some, Spinner said he was not surprised at all when Jusdanis called him to schedule a game.
“I’ve been with USA Football for about nine years, so we play Canada every year, so I’m used to playing them,” Spinner said. “I’m used to them being bigger, physical and really running the ball really well.”