August 27, 2009

Double dip: Wildcat practicing with Esks

Mario Annicchiarico
Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON — Kevin Wuthrich is getting the best of both worlds.

The 21-year-old is starring as a receiver with the Edmonton Wildcats of the Prairie Football Conference, but continues to practise daily as a protected territorial junior player with the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos.

It has been a remarkable transition for an athlete who took up the game as a teenager on the beaches of the Bahamas, of all places.

Born in Switzerland, Wuthrich later spent time in Williams Lake, B. C., and then the Caribbean, before settling in for his Grade 10 year at Ernest Manning High School in Calgary, where he first played organized football as a quarterback.

Wuthrich moved to Sherwood Park in Grade 11.That’s where he played defensive back with the school junior team before moving back to quarterback at Bev Facey for his senior year, a season in which the Falcons were provincial runners-up to Raymond.

It wasn’t until the annual Senior Bowl that Wuthrich made the switch to receiver. Now the fourth-year Wildcat has become somewhat of a project for the Eskimos, having impressed at their open tryout and been placed on the practice roster early in the season. He returned to the Wildcats, but continues to work out for both clubs.

“Yeah, it makes for a pretty long day,” said Wuthrich, who usually trains with the Esks from 8 a. m. until 2 p. m., then joins his junior team from 6 p. m. to 10 p. m.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience so far. Sometimes I get some leisure time away from the Wildcats, depending on if we win or not,” he said, laughing.

His story is anything but comical. He first took up American football in the Bahamas.

“It was two-hand touch on the beaches. By no means was it organized. There was like a group of 12 of us. We’d go out on a Saturday night and just play. It was a church group, actually,” said Wuthrich, whose dad, Hane, managed a pool company there.

Wuthrich’s first real chance to take up the game came in Calgary and he hasn’t looked back. The diminutive wideout/slotback–who stands just five-foot-10 and weighs 164 pounds –has become a protege of sorts for Kamau Peterson and the rest of the Esks’ receiving corps.

“I guess you can say I’m under K. P.’s wing,” Wuthrich said with a laugh. “I’m learning a lot from him. I actually approached him in the offseason and asked if I could work out with him. I started training with him and Jason (Maas) and Ricky (Ray), when he got to town. I guess you can say I feel like his (Peterson’s) apprentice, but I’m learning a lot from everyone.”

He takes his cues from Peterson, Maurice Mann, Fred Stamps, Andrew Nowacki, assistant coach Jason Tucker, et al.

“Mo is actually on my case more than K. P. Yeah, K. P. silently watches over me, but when I’m exposed, it’s Mo who’s in my ear, pointing out my mistakes. But I take my tips from every one of them,” said Wuthrich, who turned 21 in June while attending training camp, after the open tryout.

“I remember when they asked me to join the main camp. I was stunned. I said,’What do you want me to come as?'” Wuthrich recalled, still unsure of what he had accomplished.

Now his goal is to become an Eskimo, possibly as early as next season, which is still his last year of junior eligibility.

“That’s the goal. That’s what you work hard for every day,” said Wuthrich, who has 12 catches for 300 yards and four touchdowns in three games with the 2-1 Wildcats.

“I go into that building(Commonwealth Stadium)every day with the attitude of getting better, and I will continue to do so until someone tells me different,” added Wuthrich, who is focusing on a workout program established by Esks strength and conditioning coach Mike Cook.

“He’s a good kid. He’s finding his way a little bit and we’re all taking our part in mentoring him a little bit,” said a proud Peterson.

“I think he has a bright future. Naturally, he is a pretty talented kid and once his physicality catches up with him, he’s going to be fine.”

And he is truly living the best of both worlds.

“It’s pretty much an ideal situation for him. You can’t draw it up any better. He gets to strap it on when the lights are on every weekend and keep that edge,” said Peterson.

“That’s important, because right now at practice, you run through the middle without the fear of repercussion. Nobody is going to clean you up. But if he’s playing on the weekends, that’s the best thing for him.

“He’s going to do well in that league and any league he goes to. He’ll have an advantage the next few years. With all these tools he’s taking, he’s going to have the jump on quite a few kids.”