EDMONTON — Erin Craig was at home in Halifax when she saw that the CFL had changed its combine format to include three days of practices.
The defensive backs and strength and conditioning coach for the Saint Mary’s Huskies, Craig reached out to the CFL and asked if she could attend.
“I reached out to Eric (Noivo, the CFL’s assistant vice president of health and safety and football operations) and asked if I could come and observe and help out and if they needed help,” Craig said on Friday, at the conclusion of the first day of practice at the CFL Combine presented by New Era.
“He reached back to me within the same day and asked if I was willing to do strength and conditioning and/or help out with DBs. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Craig was active all day on the field, leading players through warmups. She worked with DBs through the day and stepped in as the quarterback in o-line vs. d-line drills in the afternoon. With general managers, coaches and scouts from every team in the league on the field, Craig also got a lot of time to work with people at a level of football that she’s intent on working her way too as well.
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“It’s extremely valuable. Just being able to be around this level of coaching staff and being able to talk and kind of try to get little bits of information from everybody and just soaking it all up is is incredible,” she said. “I’m just trying to take in everything I can.”
Craig, who is from Barrie, Ont., has found some good opportunity in Halifax. She was a personal trainer at SMU and convinced then-Huskies head coach James Colzie III to take her on as the team’s director of strength and conditioning in 2016. While with the Huskies, she eventually accepted an offer from former Huskies special teams and running backs coach Dave Gould to join his coaching staff on a team in Grenoble, France. There, she got coaching experience in every phase of the game.
She hadn’t thought about coaching before that, but once she got a feel for it, she knew she loved it.
“Then COVID hit…when stuff started kind of popping off again, I went back to St. Mary’s as a defensive assistant. It just kind of slowly unfolded from strength conditioning to on-the-field. My love for the game just kept getting bigger and bigger,” she said.
She’s worn two hats at SMU the last two seasons, working as a defensive backs and strength and conditioning coach. Her impact has been felt for the team, all the way to the Combine in Edmonton. The Huskies have four players working out in front of teams this week. Three of them — defensive lineman Aidan John, tight end Sebastian Howard and linebacker Markcus Jean-Loescher — were among the 12 players chosen out of the Invitational Combine earlier this month at Waterloo University. Defensive back Jassin States-McClean had already been invited to the Edmonton combine.
Huskies head coach Steve Sumarah had said Craig’s name within 30 seconds of a phone call about those three players, saying her work with them was paramount to their success at the combine.
“She’s the best,” John said of Craig. “She was there with us every day, two times a day, getting us up early, getting field time for us and booking places.”
“Most of my success right now, I owe to her,” Howard said. “She’s put in so much extra work. I’m so thankful she’s here right now. She’s poured so much of her energy into us. It’s shown. All four of us, our numbers, they don’t lie. She’s been working. She’s an amazing asset to have on our team. She’s the real deal.”
In the month where we celebrated International Women’s Day, we’ve seen women’s names in the headlines, signalling some change.
It was in front of us in Edmonton on Friday. Craig was on the field with BC Lions’ defensive assistant Tanya Henderson, who is working this week as the defensive line coach at the combine. Earlier this month, the Ottawa REDBLACKS hired Nadia Doucoure as their offensive quality control coach. Last week, former Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald reporter Vicki Hall became the first woman to be welcomed into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Change never comes as fast as it’s needed or wanted. There have been qualified female coaches that have missed their opportunities for years in football. Vicki Hall isn’t the first woman to have covered the CFL and her own induction is well-deserved and unfortunately long overdue. But when change does start to inch forward, it should be celebrated.
“I think there’s good progress. My whole philosophy is just to do my job and let the rest do the talking,” Craig said.
“I’m just here to do the same job as everybody else and if that’s going to progress women in football, then great. I’ll keep working, keep grinding, put my head down and do my job.”
She doesn’t hold back on what she’d like that next job to be.
“My next goal is to be a DB coach in the CFL,” she said. “Just kind of progressing toward that and be a d-coordinator one day. I want to obtain a goal and keep shooting for the next one.”