Matt Bucknor is not really that far removed from his playing days, but after getting out on the field at Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp this week he knows those days are definitely behind him.
“I can’t run with these guys like I used to,” laughed the 37-year-old former defensive back. “You do miss the game, though, right?”
So it is good to be back for Bucknor, who is taking part in a training camp coaching internship with the Ticats as part of the CFL’s Diversity In Football Program presented by Securian Canada. The program, in its second year, seeks to open new doors for people from diverse cultural backgrounds, perhaps leading to acceleration as they make their way along their chosen football career path or perhaps even leading to an entirely new trajectory within the game.
We’re in early days of the training camp process but already Bucknor is jazzed about the atmosphere and the possibilities.
“Loving the experience,” said the former Ticat, who also spent time in Calgary, BC and Winnipeg during his career. “Learning a lot. Absorbing a lot. It’s been a blast.
“I’m energized by training camp. I love being around the guys, being on the field.”
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The Ticats have Bucknor assisting in coaching duties at camp and that is definitely an area that interests the Hamilton native greatly. Since his playing days ended, Bucknor has done a little coaching but has primarily been involved in physical fitness training for various groups and individuals, including some football and hockey players looking for a fitness edge.
However, Bucknor feels that football is “one of those things where it doesn’t leave you” and so he would like to be more and more involved in the game he played as a pro for six seasons.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and (it’s) kind of just finding that opportunity,” he said. “And this is one. This is something that I’m definitely looking forward to continue to do.”
“I would love to coach,” he added. “It’d be an amazing opportunity to coach.”
Bucknor is floating around camp right now, doing things such as helping out with defensive backs drills, which seems a natural fit. “Just doing whatever I can to help the team,” he said.
And even if coaching is the primary goal right now, Bucknor knows that could very well change, so he will take the opportunity to glean information from a number of different areas while he’s at Ticat camp.
“One of the things I’ve understood is sometimes the door into the league as a player, as a coach, sometimes it’s unconventional,” Bucknor said. “So it’s kind of taking that role that you might not think is for you, you know, putting your name in a hat and then kind of building a journey from there.”
As a participant in the Diversity In Football program, Bucknor knows there are no guarantees outside of the opportunity to connect and gain experience. But he is likely also aware that the program has already shown it can lead to the kind of opportunity he is looking for and that is as a full-time employee of a CFL club.
Last year, Ottawa Gee-Gees offensive coordinator Nate Taylor took part in a training camp internship as part of the program and now he is gainfully employed by the Ottawa REDBLACKS, hired last December to be the team’s running backs coach.
Perhaps the same kind of opportunity will be presented to one or more of this year’s program participants. Bucknor, the former CFL defensive back and current fitness trainer whose passion for football has never waned, would like that a lot.
“I’d love to be a part of the league and continue to contribute where I can,” he said.
As a participant in the Diversity In Football Program, Bucknor is getting the chance to glimpse what that might look like.