St. Thomas Parkside linebacker makes Team Ontario


Like many amateur athletes early in their career, Andrew Graham came to a fork in the road as to which sport he would focus on, football or hockey.

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He was good at hockey, playing on a travelling team in Port Stanley, but by the time he was ready to start school at Parkside Collegiate Institute, he felt himself being pulled toward football.

“I used to play hockey in when I was younger,” the 17-year resident of Union said. “At first, I thought was a little small for football.”

With hockey behind him, Parkside coaches advised him to play linebacker.

“I came out for linebacker and that’s where I ended up,” he said.

He spent his first two years with Parkside’s junior program and last year under Ted Pinnegar’s senior team tutorship.

Graham currently stands 5-foot”- 10 and weighs 190 pounds. Some of that is the direct result of a weight training and diet program he started after enrolling in football.

Pinnegar said it’s a good size and weight for a player of Graham’s experience.

“For us, it’s a good size.”

Graham has been busy rounding out his regimen lately.

From high school football, he tried out and made the Forest City Thunderbirds in London, Ont. who play in the varsity division of the Ontario Football Conference.

That choice proved to be a good fit for Graham. Thunderbirds play from May to August and it keeps him busy as he tunes up for the high school season.

This week, he takes on another challenge.

Encouraged by Pinnegar, Graham went to an open tryout in April for Team Ontario, a program that drafts two development teams for the province that will travel to Nova Scotia this month for the under-18 Football Canada Cup tournament.

Team Ontario is jointly sponsored by Football Canada and the Ontario Football Alliance.

Graham said he made Team West, proving himself at the McMaster University camp from 300 who tried out.

“They narrowed it down from 300 to 80 who tried out,” he said.

That was followed up by a three-day tuneup at the University of Western Ontario.

“Now we leave for the Canada Cup in Nova Scotia,” he said.

The team will travel to Wolfville, N.S., to play at Acadia University.

Graham is already beginning to feel how demanding the Team West program is.

“The playbook has to be close to 60 pages,” he said. “They expect a lot from you.”

Graham knows in addition to keeping his football skills sharp, he has to maintain good grades.

Canadian universities are not only looking for athletes, they want students who academically strong, Pinnegar said.

“I have to get my marks to where they want them to be,” Graham said.

For now, he’s focused on studying kinesiology at the postsecondary level.

Graham knows there will be a lot of scouts watching the Football Canada Cup games in Wolfville.

That, he reckons, increases the chances of players like him being seen and possibly being offered a scholarship.

Canadian universities don’t offer a “full ride” scholarship where everything is paid for like U.S. schools. But, as Pinnegar pointed out, there are entrance scholarships available that help students gets started.

For now, Graham will concentrate on off-field conditioning, working in the weight room at Parkside and exercising with a personal trainer in St. Thomas.

“I found a weightlifting program on the Internet,” he said.

Pinnegar said for players like Graham, it’s ill-advised to show up at training camp out of shape.

“We expect the kids to come in shape because the season is so short,” Pinnegar said.

Graham is the son of Sherri- Lynn and Glenn Graham. He has two brothers, Brian, the eldest who played hockey, and Mitchell, a younger sibling who splits his time between soccer, baseball and hockey.

Parkside is holding a car wash Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. to help raise money for Graham’s expenses. Those interested in donating should contact the school at 519-633-0090.

By PATRICK BRENNAN TIMES-JOURNAL

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