Newmarket resident and Huron Heights Warriors football centre Blake Labelle is taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip this summer.
Labelle will be going to British Columbia to compete for Team Ontario as part of its U18 team, alongside three of his local teammates. They’ll be playing in the U18 Football Canada Cup in Kelowna July 9 to 17.
“We'll meet new people, make new friends, and it’s an opportunity to learn a lot more about the game,” he said. “Just seeing so many of the (local) kids make the team, I kind of realize Huron Heights is the place to be because of all the talent.”
Newmarket’s premier football team will have 10 players competing on the national stage this month. Alongside the four playing in the U18 competition, six Huron Heights players made Team Ontario’s U16 team and will play at the Eastern Canadian Challenge in Sackville, New Brunswick July 19 to 24.
Program coach Heath Weir said he has never seen so many of his team crack the provincial squads.
“It’s very exciting, I'm very proud of them,” Weir said. “The kids work really hard during the season and the fall. They continue to work hard in the off-season training and doing everything they have to do to make themselves better and the team better.”
The team is coming off one of its best-ever seasons, with a provincial title and No. 1 ranking.
It is nice to see players earn some individual successes after a strong year as a team, Weir said.
“It’s really the fruits of our labour and their labour. It’s our kids that are working hard,” he said. “We’re not necessarily the best team on paper. We don’t have a bunch of Division 1 guys coming in and coming out of our program. We’re grinders. Our kids know how to grind.”
The Football Canada Cup is returning for the first time since 2019 and bills itself as the premier pre-university football tournament that “has springboarded many U SPORTS, NCAA, national team and professional careers." Eight teams from eight different provinces will compete.
“We have a chance to win for sure,” Labelle said. “We’re a great group of guys. We’re ranked fifth coming into it, but I think we can definitely bring that up.”
Football Canada also runs the U16 challenge, split up into western and eastern sides with four teams each, to build up toward the U18 national cup.
Time off during the pandemic spurred more players to try out this year, Weir said. More than 20 Huron Heights players tried out for Team Ontario, compared to five to eight in previous years.
“What we’re seeing in our society, in general, is more kids trying more things, regardless of the outcome,” he said. “When you have over 20 kids trying out, chances are some of those kids are going to make the squad.”
Meanwhile, Huron Heights players are working on off-season training for next school year’s football season.
Labelle said football helps motivate him for school and vice-versa. As a high school senior, he said he hopes to land a football scholarship this year.
“We’ve been training a lot, hitting the weight room. We’re really getting after it to try to be the No. 1,” he said. “We keep it up for next year."