They have followed different paths on their football journey but three participants in the CFL’s Diversity in Football Program presented by Securian Canada all have the same destination in mind.
Former CFL receiver Jabari Arthur; Greig Longchamps, an offensive lineman selected by Edmonton in the 2006 draft and Alysha Emerson, who has an extensive background in women’s flag and touch football, all hope to coach at the professional level.
“When I heard about the program I was amazed,” said Longchamps, now a head coach at a Montreal high school who is attending the Edmonton Elks training camp. “It’s a great way to put your foot in the door.
“I’m happy to be chosen. What it does for the community, now there is a way for you to get noticed. That’s always a good thing.”
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Arthur, a Montreal native who played eight years in the CFL and won two Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders, is currently the offensive coordinator with the University of Calgary Dinos. This will be the second time he’s attended a Stampeders’ training camp as a guest coach.
“All successful people are lifetime leaners,” he said. “I’m hoping once again to improve my football knowledge and techniques. But also watch the way (the Stampeder coaches) conduct themselves as a staff on and off the field.
“My goal is to have a notebook and try to fill every page in the next three weeks. I’m just trying to better myself.”
Emerson, who is the defensive coordinator with the Sheridan College women’s flag football team, hopes to see more women coaching in the CFL.
“Women can do this,” said the Mississauga, Ont., native who is attending the Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp. “They can coach at this level.
“I understand my skill set. I’m here to learn and get as much knowledge as I can. I’m a huge advocate for women in sports, especially women in football. If there’s one thing I can take away from this experience it would be that women have to show other women they do have a place in football.”
The goal of the Diversity in Football Program, is to create a platform through which talented individuals are able to express their cultural knowledge, identities and experiences to contribute to the growth of Canadian football.
Nine participants will attend CFL teams’ training camps to experience coaching, or the football and business operations sides of the league.
Emerson has followed the path less travelled in her coaching quest. While many of the Diversity in Football participants have played tackle football, much of her experience has been playing and coaching flag football. Some of the leagues are contact with defensive and offensive lines while others are non-contact.
“For the most part, the concepts are the exact same,” said Emerson, who is league coordinator for the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association and also women’s football development coordinator for Football Ontario. “As a player, I’m looking at the coverages, what kind of schemes and stuff can I take away.
“I’m (also) looking at it from aspects like how the training camp is run, practice schedules. I’m also paying attention to the operations side.”
At the Elks camp, Longchamps is excited to work with and learn from Chris Jones, Edmonton’s general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator.
“It is something I’ve always wanted to be around and know, the ins and outs,” he said. “I have played football as a player. Now to see the other side of things is going to be very interesting.
“Just looking to see what the big picture is like.”
“I’m trying to soak up as much as I can learn and create relationships with coaches, players and (people in) administration.”
— Greig Longchamps on his approach to his time in Edmonton
Longchamps hopes to bring new ideas and best practices back to his team in Montreal.
“I’m looking to get new information, the way to attack certain coverages, certain fronts with the run game,” he said. “I can get information from coaches who have been doing it way longer than me.”
Returning to a team that drafted him, and where he played a couple of exhibition games, adds to the excitement.
“It is special,” he said.
Arthur has proven himself as a player and a Canadian college coach. He sees the Diversity in Football Program as a way to network at the professional level.
“I’m trying to soak up as much as I can learn and create relationships with coaches, players and (people in) administration,” he said.
“Football, especially in Canada, is such a small and close-knit community. It’s always good to try to forge new relationships and learn from people who are doing it at a very high level.”
When searching for staff, many CFL head coaches look for assistants who have come through the U.S. college ranks. That’s another hurdle for Canadians like Arthur.
“There’s a lot more teams in the U.S. and bigger budgets,” he said. “They still have to come up here and learn the game.
“I think there’s an advantage of coaches coming from Canada and the U.S.”
Emerson has been impressed by the warm welcome she’s received from the Bombers’ coaching staff and players.
“Even offensive coaches that I’m not necessarily working directly with have been willing to share their knowledge, little tips and tricks,’ she said.
“I’ve had a number of players come up to me and introduced themselves, ask me about my background in football.”
It can be a long, hard road to earning a job as a professional football coach. Arthur said the Diversity in Football Program will benefit visible minorities who sometimes face another hill to climb.
“Hopefully we will get to a place where we don’t need programs like this,” he said. “Until then, this program is absolutely awesome. I always give props where I can. I give props to the CFL for trying to take steps in that direction.”