June 2, 2024

Allen, Blanc making the most of Diversity in Football program


At first, it felt a bit strange for Jean-Samuel Blanc.

He’d arrived at Montreal Alouettes training camp in mid-May, something he’d done six times previously, as a player.

This time, though, Blanc was on hand as a coach.

“It was weird at first,” admitted the former Alouette special teams captain, adding that the strangeness of the experience vanished rather quickly. “As soon as we stepped on the field, I was back with my coaching hat on trying to help players make the team.”

Following his CFL career, and for the past two years, Blanc has been an assistant with the Montreal Carabins, coaching the team’s defensive line and coordinating the special teams. He found himself at Als camp through the CFL’s Diversity In Football Program, presented by Securian Canada.

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Jean-Samuel Blanc will begin his third year on the Carabins coaching staff in 2024 (James Hajjar/University of Montreal)

He was happy to be back and although he found it rewarding to reacquaint himself with the many Montreal players remaining who were once his teammates, this was not just a trip down memory lane.

Blanc was looking for intel. Looking for lessons on how to improve what he does.

“I’m trying to take everything in perspective and grasp all the information I can from all the positions on the field,” said the 33-year-old native of Montreal. “To become a better coach to add value to my players.”

“I’m trying to learn new line new drills, new ways of thinking,” added the two-time Vanier Cup Champion, who has won both as a Carabins player (2014) and as a coach (2023).

As well as gleaning knowledge for his duties as a defensive line coach, Blanc soaked up plenty, no doubt, from his former teammate – at both the University of Montreal and with the Alouettes – Byron Archambault, who is the Als’ special teams coordinator, as well as assistant head coach and director of player personnel.

“I’m trying to get as much information and tips from him,” said Blanc, adding that he found the entire Als’ operation to be impressive.

“They do everything the right way,” he said. “And for sure I have a lot to bring back to my guys.”

Along with Blanc, there were three others taking part in the Diversity In Football Program at East Division training camps; Samuel Okanlawon joined the Toronto Argonauts video department, Isaiah Johns was with the Ottawa REDBLACKS coaching staff and Savannah Allen gained new experience in football operations with the Hamilton Ticats.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far,” said Allen, a Brock University (St. Catharines, Ont.) Sport Management graduate. “It’s only been a short period of time but I’ve really been enjoying it and really see myself in football long term.”

Savannah Allen (left) says she got an ‘into-the-deep-end’ immersion course on how a pro football team’s busy operations department gets things done with the Tiger-Cats (Ticats.ca)

Working in Hamilton’s Football Ops department under the supervision of Director CJ Paduano, Allen got an ‘into-the-deep-end’ immersion course on how a pro football team’s busy operations department gets things done.

She was struck by just how crucial the football ops crew is to a team, while assisting in the tall training camp tasks of airport shuttling, room and meal assignments as well as the pivot to housing for players for the upcoming regular season. To name just a few of those tasks.

“You don’t really see, behind the scenes, everything that has to happen in order for things on the field to go smoothly as well,” said Allen. “So to be able to have that background knowledge has been really eye opening for me.”

“It’s been really nice to have a lot of hands-on experience,” added Allen, who spent almost three years as senior league coordinator for the Peel Halton Soccer Association. “That’s been fun for me and kind of what’s keeping me really interested in staying in football.”

When she applied to take part in the Diversity In Football Program, Allen had a couple of reasons in mind.

“I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try out professional sports, which is something I wanted to do. And working in football just seemed like the perfect scenario for me.”

“I also just really liked the messaging behind what this whole program embodied, as a young woman of colour,” she added. “I really wanted to take this opportunity to put my name out there and be an inspiration for other people that would be in the same situation as me.”

For Blanc, who returned to his past in order to feed his future, the Diversity In Football Program has delivered.

“I think it’s a great opportunity, especially for coaches at my level, university, where the game is very similar to the CFL.”

“You can get so much from it,” he said. “So much.”

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