March 9, 2024

CFL Mentorship Program takes a new turn in year 3

Andrew Lahodynskyj/

As a pair of veteran players, Aaron Grymes and Chris Kolankowski had accumulated their share of questions through their careers about what happens in and around the CFL.

This week, as two of the seven participants in the CFL’s Mentorship Program, they got some answers to those questions.

“I just wanted to know more about the league and how it operates,” Kolankowski, a Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offensive lineman, said of his reasoning to join this year’s cohort of players. Now in its third year, the mentorship program is conducted alongside the CFL Players’ Association and aims to deepen participants’ understanding of the business behind professional football.

“It’s really just understanding the challenges the league faces when trying to grow, trying to make more money, trying to get new fans, trying to get younger fans, it’s just really cool to see the complexity of it,” Kolankowski continued. “Then also, as I have an interest in the football (side), here’s how the league works on the football side with promoting the game itself and making sure it’s a competitive product on the field.”

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“I want to make sure that I stay within the game when it is time for me to retire,” said Grymes, who is a free agent at the moment, after spending the last three seasons with the Edmonton Elks, while dealing with a difficult ACL surgery rehab.

“Considering my history over the last couple of years, retirement is not an option for me right now, but it’s it’s getting close. I want to make sure that I give myself the best chance to stay within the game as much as possible. I knew that being here would open my eyes up to the inner workings of the league, but also gives me an opportunity to stay within the league when I’m no longer playing.”

Grymes envisions being a general manager or even a team president in his post-playing days.

“I love coaching, I love talking sports,” he said.

“The coaching lifestyle and the athlete lifestyle where there can be a lot of uncertainty, and long hours. But at the end of the day, sports is what makes me happy. It fills my cup and you can’t really put a time limit or a price tag on that. So transitioning into sport would be amazing.”

Grymes and Kolankowski spent the week with free agent offensive lineman Osaro Eromesele, Toronto Argonauts’ linebacker Emmanuel Falola, Edmonton Elks’ defensive back Scott Hutter, Ottawa REDBLACKS’ punter Richie Leonie and Blue Bombers’ defensive lineman Jake Thomas. The group received presentations from each department at the league office, went to the TSN studios and learned about the league’s relationship with its broadcast partner and spent time with commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

Scott Hutter and Emmanuel Falola record bench press data with Lawrence Hopper, the CFL’s manager of football operations and global scouting (Andrew Lahodynskyj/

The Mentorship Program got a shot of validation on Thursday when the Saskatchewan Roughriders announced that they had hired the freshly retired Larry Dean as the team’s player personnel coordinator. Dean told media in Regina on Thursday that his involvement in last year’s program had a direct link to the team taking him from the locker room last year, into the front office this year.

“That’s something that all of us mentees talked about when we saw it,” said Leonie, “and it bodes well for the program. I hope that it will continue to lead for more opportunities for people who have participated in this.”

The group trekked out to Waterloo on Thursday evening to help out with the CFL Invitational Combine on Friday. Kolankowski, who came to the CFL via the Ontario Regional Combine in 2016, was eager to help a new class of aspiring players get the most out the day that they could. He also worked at getting the most out of this past week that he could.

“Just learning more about the league, how they run, how they operate,” Kolankowski said of what he enjoyed about the past week.

“(Tuesday’s session) was amazing. I talked to Randy (Ambrosie), Greg Dick (the league’s chief football operations officer and head of Grey Cup and events). It was just really cool to hear their insights and how passionate everyone (at the league) is about make sure things run smoothly.”

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