May 26, 2024

Jean-Samuel Blanc gives back through Diversity In Football Program

James Hajjar/University of Montreal

MONTREAL – Every morning, Jean-Samuel Blanc, the special teams coordinator and defensive line coach for the Université de Montréal Carabins, is more than happy to go to work.

“It’s nice to wake up and look forward to going to work,” says the man who will begin his third year on the Carabins coaching staff in 2024.

“Our roster has over 100 players and it’s very motivating to think that I can have an impact on any of them. I am a person who loves to give back. If I can pass on to young people part of everything I have learned throughout my career, that really makes me happy.”

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A former Alouette, Jean-Samuel Blanc is sharing his football and life knowledge with the Montreal Carabins as a coach (James Hajjar/University of Montreal)

Originally from Montreal, Blanc played for six seasons in the CFL before hanging up his cleats to take on new challenges in 2022. In 71 games, all played for the Montreal Alouettes, the former Vanier College Cheetah and Carabin made 53 tackles on special teams, nine tackles on defence, had two sacks and two forced fumbles.

“When you play, you think you’re going to succeed in playing until YOU decide it’s the end,” explains Blanc, who, in addition to having seriously injured his shoulder, found himself without contract at the end of the 2021 season.

“In December (of 2022), I had surgery, and the rehabilitation was going pretty well, so I thought I would play a few more seasons. But I knew clubs weren’t going to sign an injured player. My goal was to start offering my services again in August. Then I met Coach Marco (Iadeluca, the head coach of the Carabins) at CEPSUM.”

The defensive lineman, 31 at the time, explained his situation to Iadeluca. A few days later, when he thought he had been summoned by the Blues’ leader to deliver a speech to the Carabins players, Blanc was offered, to his greatest surprise, a coaching position within the team.

Convinced he still had a few seasons left in his body, the man who was going to become a father for the first time in June 2022 was in shock. Thinking of the other former professionals who sometimes have to go through the secondary or college ranks before reaching the university ranks – the level of play which is closest to that of the CFL, according to Blanc – he chose to put an end to his career as a CFL player and seized the opportunity that presented itself to him.

Although, by his own admission, mourning his football career was slightly difficult mentally, Blanc was well-supported by Iadeluca and had an overall smooth transition to his new job. A little more than two years after moving from the field to the sidelines, he has no regrets.

“Like any player, I miss the locker room but at the same time, I left the Alouettes’ locker room for the Carabins’ locker room, which made the transition a little easier,” Blanc says.

“I’m extremely happy and I’m very grateful for the role I’m in right now. It allowed me to evolve. I went from a young man to…an older young man,” he laughs. “Once I was done grieving, the transition was easy and I don’t regret it at all. I am well.”

Blanc’s transition into coaching has been a smooth one, thanks to the Carabins’ supportive environment (James Hajjar/University of Montreal)

This month, Blanc is one of nine participants in the third edition of the annual Diversity in Football program, presented by Securian Canada. His former team, the Alouettes, welcomed him back to training camp in this new capacity.

It’s with a touch of nostalgia that Blanc will reconnect with the Als, who are holding their camp in Saint-Jérôme, QC. Blanc, a winner of the Vanier Cup in 2023 – he also lifted the cup, as a player, in 2014 – hopes to give a good boost to the reigning Gray Cup champions, but he also intends to consume as much information as possible in order to become a better coach.

“I think I can learn a lot through a program like this,” he shared when submitting his application in February.

“In the short time I’ve had the opportunity to spend with our student-athletes, I would like to be able to maximize their potential as players, but also as young men. We are all human, and we all want the next generation of athletes or football players to be better, in one way or another, than the last. If I can teach what I learned at 30 to 20-year-old players, why wouldn’t I? It’s a little extra that they can use to their advantage.”

With the Diversity in Football program, the CFL and Securian Canada want to take concrete steps to create a more positive and inclusive future for football. Over the coming weeks, program participants will have a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and practical work experience in the professional football environment. Blanc judges that the initiative of the CFL and Securian Canada is an excellent way to promote the great openness – although imperfect, since there is always more work to be done – of the Canadian circuit.

“Like Canada, the CFL has always been proud to highlight that it welcomes athletes from all over the world or players from diverse backgrounds,” says Blanc. “Football is a North American sport, but more and more we notice that it is gaining popularity in all four corners of the world. The league uses the slogan “Diversity is Strength,” and I think it’s totally true: diversity really does make a difference.”

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