When Melissa Grieco first got to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ training camp last week, she saw a familiar face out on the field, a player she’d crossed paths with before.
It was kicker Marc Liegghio, who was a member of the Newmarket Bucs of the Ontario Varsity Football League when Grieco was an assistant coach with the team.
“It’s kind of like a full circle moment,” said Grieco, a participant in the CFL’s Women In Football Program presented by KPMG. “Seeing him at camp is just something nice. It’s something that we’ve both been working at and he found his his playing path and I’ve found my coaching path. I think that’s pretty cool.”
That’s not the only thing that’s been pretty cool for Grieco, the 32-year-old native of Etobicoke, Ont. There is also a shared experience with a close friend and coaching associate, as well as the experience of taking in the atmosphere and operation of what has been the CFL’s flagship program over the last handful of seasons.
“Honestly, the organization so far has been fantastic,” said Grieco. “And from from top to bottom, everyone really, really cares about the culture here. I’m riding with a really good crew right now, I can tell you that much.”
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As head coach of the Sheridan Bruins of the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association, Grieco cares about her own team’s culture and is looking forward to soaking up as much knowledge as she can so that she can build on the foundation she and her assistant coaches — Alysha Emerson and Tiffany Hall — have set with Sheridan over the course of their first season.
Coincidentally, Emerson — the defensive coordinator for the Bruins — is also taking part in a coaching internship with the Bombers as part of the Diversity In Football Program presented by Securian Canada.
“Every time we leave the practice field we walk back to our locker room and we’re just kind of in awe,” said Grieco, “like, ‘This is us, we’re doing this together.’ We’ve known each other for years and football’s how we met.”
So far at camp, Grieco has been assisting with the receivers/quarterback drills and then spending time with players after practice, going over playbooks, particularly with some of the players who were late additions to the Blue Bomber roster. There could be more.
“I know that I plan on working with with the running backs a little bit and the o-line as well just to learn all parts of the offence,” she said.
The experience, Grieco said, has been sensational.
“Kevin Bourgoin, he’s been awesome,” said Grieco of Winnipeg’s receivers coach. “He’s insanely knowledgeable. And I can’t really ask for a better mentor. And then I have Coach Buck Pierce (Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) on top of that.”
Of Mike O’Shea, Grieco can confirm the growing legend of the Winnipeg head coach’s dedication to process and to team. She’s taken aback.
“He’s unlike anyone I’ve been around before,” said Grieco. “He absolutely just adores his players, but he also knows the sheer amount of work that goes into the program as well.”
“My goal right now is to grow the women’s side. I think we’ve kind of lacked in that area. But now that the CFL has programs (like the Women In Football Program), it allows women to see that there are spots for them. That this isn’t just a space for men.”
— Melissa Grieco on taking part in the Women In Football Program
Grieco’s love for football can be traced back to when she was a teenager when she was a “water girl,” she says, for a team back in 2007. Since then, she’s been playing and coaching and has “pretty much coached all the levels,” from tyke and peewee on up.
If it can be said that her own growth in the game is important to Grieco, it must also be said that she has ambitions beyond merely personal ones, and those ambitions involve expanding participation in the sport she loves.
“My goal right now is to grow the women’s side,” Grieco said. “I think we’ve kind of lacked in that area. But now that the CFL has programs (like the Women In Football Program), it allows women to see that there are spots for them. That this isn’t just a space for men.”
Grieco is doing her part to prove that point and not just with her participation at Bombers’ camp. But, also, with the program at Sheridan.
Of the 28 women who took part in last season’s flag football program at Sheridan, which sees squads taking part in both the five-woman and 11-woman forms of the game, Grieco says 23 had “never touched a football” prior to joining.
“We made massive, massive strides in terms of getting the girls where they need to be,” said Grieco of the Bruins, “and they fell in love with the game. To me that was the most important thing.”
Now the goal is to coach up the women who head into their sophomore season. Grieco is preparing herself for that by vacuuming up the knowledge while with the Blue Bombers, “learning concepts that they have going on and just learning the game at this level,” she said.
Growing the women’s game is the immediate goal. But down the road? Grieco admits she has her eye on the CFL.
“I would definitely love to coach at this level in the future,” she said.