OTTAWA — Queen’s offensive tackle Matthew O’Donnell and Calgary slotback Anthony Parker are the Canadian Interuniversity Sport football players selected to suit up in the 86th edition of the prestigious East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, January 22, 2011 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. live on NFL Network.
Every year since 1985, CIS players are invited to the all-star showcase which features over 80 of the top university players in the United States. After Calgary offensive lineman Tom Spoletini was selected in 1985, two CIS representatives have made the trip down south annually with the exception of 2008, when four CIS players received an invitation.
The Shrine Game has been played annually since 1925 to raise funds for Shriners Hospitals for Children and to raise awareness about the expert orthopedic, burn, spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and cleft lip and palate care, available at no charge to patients and families, through the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children.
The impressive list of past CIS standouts invited to the Shrine Game includes current NFL player Israel Idonije of the Chicago Bears, who starred at the University of Manitoba from 2000 to 2002; Dan Federkeil (Calgary) and Samuel Giguère (Sherbrooke), both of whom recently played for the Indianapolis Colts; as well as Hec Crighton Trophy winners Don Blair of Calgary, Andy Fantuz of Western Ontario, and Jesse Lumsden and Kojo Aidoo, both of McMaster.
The list of NFL greats who played in the event includes Brett Favre, Tom Brady, John Elway, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Kellen Winslow and Larry Csonka. A total of 62 Shrine Game alumni have gone on to become Pro Football Hall of Famers.
O’Donnell, a 21-year-old from Kingston, Ont., who stands at 6-foot-10 and 340 pounds, will become the tallest and heaviest CIS player to take part in the classic. The health studies student is only the second Queen’s player to be invited to the game. Mike Schad, also an offensive tackle, was the first CIS all-star selected to the East team back in 1986, and to this day remains the only CIS graduate chosen in the first round of the NFL draft (1987, Los Angeles Rams, 23rd overall).
This fall, the fourth-year senior, who has dressed in every game for Queen’s since his university debut in 2007, was named lineman of the year in the OUA conference and was one of only two athletes selected to the first all-Canadian team on offence for the second straight season. Despite the loss of many all-star seniors following their Vanier Cup triumph in 2009, the Gaels ranked fifth in the country in rushing yards per game and seventh in passing and total yards in 2010, while the offensive line allowed only 12 sacks of first-year starting quarterback Justin Chapdelaine.
After helping Queen’s capture its first CIS title since 1992 a year ago, O’Donnell was ranked sixth on the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top 15 prospects list on Sept. 16 and eighth on the most recent list published on Dec. 14.
“Matt is a very physically intimidating force and this is a tremendous opportunity for him to showcase his skills,” said Queen’s head coach Pat Sheahan. “He will line up with the best seniors in US college football and this will determine a lot about his football future. I think it’s going to be a great experience for Matt and this certainly is a proud moment for both him and our program.”
Parker, who hails from Okotoks, Alta., adds to Calgary’s CIS-record tally as the 10th Dino in history invited to the Shrine Game. He is the first UofC representative since Federkeil in 2006.
Despite missing three regular season games due to an injury this fall, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound open studies student finished third in Canada West with 73.4 receiving yards per contest and fifth in all-purpose yards with an average of 125.2. Named a conference all-star for the second straight season, he hit his stride in the playoffs with 588 all-purpose yards and six receiving touchdowns in four outings as he helped the Dinos claim their third consecutive Canada West title and reach the Vanier Cup final for the second year in a row.
Parker enjoyed his best campaign at the UofC as a junior in 2009 when he led Canada West and ranked third in the country with 816 receiving yards, and scored 10 all-purpose touchdowns to finish second in the Western conference. His statistics earned him second-team all-Canadian status.
The 21-year-old has been the highest-ranked CIS player by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau all season as he opened at No. 3 on the Sept. 16 list and maintained that position in the December rankings.
“It is an incredible honour to have been selected and to be one of only two players in all of Canada is really special,” said Parker. “I am looking forward to the opportunity and it is another step in the right direction! It will be a highlight of my career to this point and I feel very fortunate to be able to contribute, not only as a participant in the game but also to such a great cause.”
In Orlando, O’Donnell and Parker, who both suited up in the 2010 CIS East West Bowl last spring, will get a chance to play for a pair of coaching legends, as Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips were announced as the Shrine Game head coaches on Dec. 14.
Reeves, 66, led the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances in a span of four years between 1987 and 1990 and guided the Atlanta Falcons to the NFL title game in 1999. Over his 23-year tenure at the helm of Denver, Atlanta and the New York Giants from 1981 to 2003, he compiled a 190-165-2 regular season record and an 11-9 playoff mark.
Phillips, 63, went 83-64 overall as an NFL head coach between 1985 and 2010 with New Orleans, Denver, Buffalo, Atlanta and Dallas. He led his last team, the Cowboys, to a pair of first-place finishes in the NFC East in 2007 and 2009. He started his coaching career back in 1969 at the University of Houston as a graduate assistant.