Changing Football Culture In Canada

Ten years has gone by fast for Victor Tedondo.

Canadian Eli Ankou is pushing for a starting spot as red-shirt freshman at UCLA.

Ten years ago Tedondo was a 5-foot-9, 205-pound running back at St-Peter Catholic High School in Ottawa, Ontario in Canada with dreams of playing major college football and perhaps beyond. Syracuse had offered Tedondo an opportunity and he was ready to head to the New York based school in the United States with his vision en route to becoming a reality.

Unfortunately Tedondo’s parent’s nixed all of those plans and ideas.

“I had a lot of NCAA interest coming out of high school but I got into recruiting late,” the 27-year old Tedondo said. “I was talking to Syracuse but my parents coming from an academic background didn’t think it was necessary for me to go to the States for an education.”

In Tedondo’s mind he wasn’t going to the States for an education. He was headed there to strap on the pads and bang around playing the sport he loved. Tedondo’s parent’s vision won out instead, and he ended up playing at the University of Ottawa in a spread offense and didn’t maximize what he thought was his football potential.

Tedondo doesn’t want to see that happen to any Canadian with aspirations of playing college football in the United States. He started coaching youth football as a student at the University of Ottawa his freshman year and in 2007 he started the Gridiron Academy, a group that has already sent two players to two BCS programs in UCLA defensive lineman Eli Ankou and Virginia defensive end Trent Corney, with several more prospects coming up the pipeline. With what started as just three clients and a yearly football camp, has turned into over 100 participants coming in a couple times a week for training.

“I don’t want kids to be in my shoes or go through the things I went through,” Tedondo said. He also works as an internal auditor for the Canadian government. “I believe if I had the same opportunities our kids have today, I would have went far in football and I want to make sure my kids go as far as they can.”

The Beginning

Ankou was the first.

Trent Corney during a practice at Virginia last fall.

Tedondo met Ankou when he was a 14-year old freshman, who at the time was 6-foot-2, 300 pounds. Look at the Bruins roster now and the sophomore pushing for a starting job is listed at 6-3, 290.

“He took up football when he was 13 or 14 years old and people around had nothing good to say about the kid so I decided to help him out,” Tedondo said. “They said he was lazy. When I first saw him I thought he had NCAA potential.

“I sat down with his parents before we started training and said if he wants to do this he has the tools to accomplish it. He was shy and didn’t know what to make of it. Even here in Canada at the Pop Warner level he’s not a star. It was a confidence booster to hear that from me. His mom was shocked. They had tried everything. He tried soccer. He tried martial arts. His parents believed in me and believed in the program.”

In three months, Tedondo had Ankou trimmed down to 240 pounds by changing his diet and giving him a workout regimen. Ankou would lift weights three times a week, do cardio every day and after each workout do footwork drills. Tedondo trained him as a running back as that was the position he knew best. While doing all of that, Tedondo also make Ankou log all the hours of academic work he was doing as well.

The results were showing on the football field.

“Up here football is different,” Tedondo said. “We have high school football and Pop Warner football and community football that goes all the way till you’re 22. That’s a league for 17 to 22-years old, and Eli started playing in that league as a junior in high school against kids that were 22-years old. He started six out of the eight games.”

Current IMG (Fla.) Bradenton Academy Top247 quarterback Michael O’Connor played on Tedondo’s youth team 10-years ago as a seven-year old center that went onto play linebacker before settling in as a signal-caller at age 12. Along with Ankou, he was part of the original three of the Gridiron Academy program.

As interest in his program grew, from three to 10 to 50, Tedondo knew he needed to take things to the next level.

QB Michael O'Connor impressed 247Sports analysts at camps and combines in earning a Top247 grade.

“In 2009 I realized an annual football camp or two-day camp once a year wouldn’t help the kids,” he said. “I decided to take it full time and train the kids year round and take the kids to the States for events.”

Tedondo took his guys to numerous National Underclassmen Combines and New Level Athletics 7-on-7 events. His team also attended the IMG 7-on-7 regional last year, as well as Nike Football Training Camps and Elite 11 competition. Every trip is a sacrifice regarding time and money.

Parents are literally buying in after seeing Ankou and Corney earn full-ride scholarships to play football, something that isn’t available to Canadian players in their own country.

“I have to give a lot of respect for my parents because every trip is at least 250 bucks,” Tedondo said. He also requires Gridiron Academy players to carry a B average or they can’t participate. “They find a way to raise money because they believe in their kid and believe in our program. They want their education paid for.”

When Tedondo started bringing kids to the U.S. to compete, Ankou was quick to impress and ultimately earned scholarships from Baylor, Vanderbilt and Virginia before picking UCLA. Corney starred on the 7-on-7 circuit as a two-way player and physical specimen, and earned a late offer from Virginia. In 2012 he was one of nine Cavaliers true freshmen to see the field during the fall.

“Corney was a track star we met back in 2010 training at the same facility,” Tedondo said. “He was real impressed because he saw what we were doing and the travel we were doing and he wanted to take part in that. He had a lot of potential, 6-3, 215 pounds, a national-level javelin competitor and he decided to take football serious. He started traveling with us in 2011.”

O’Connor has shined on the Gridiron Academy 7-on-7 teams going back to his eighth grade year. Now the class-of-2014 prospect is ranked by the 247Composite as the nation’s No. 13 pro-style passer and he’s entertaining scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan State, South Florida, Vanderbilt and Rutgers.

“Opening up doors I never would have experienced,” O’Connor said of Tedondo and Gridiron Academy. “Five years ago teams like Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you what color they are and what they represent. It opened doors for me and all the exposure he helped me get and being a support system and great guy, he cares about his kids on the football field and as a person. Just all the support and exposure and weight room as well. He also showed us the type of passion you have to have for your sport to succeed in Division-I football. He was hard on us at times but coming down here (to IMG Academy) and going to school down here, that’s the culture. He brought the America football culture to Canada.”

Tedondo is expecting his 2017 WR/CB Jonathan Sutherland to be highly recruited. The youngster is already making a name for himself on the camp circuit.

The Growth

Ankou and O’Connor got the ball rolling. Class-of-2014 receiver Tyrone Pierre is another receiving BCS interest from the likes of Michigan State and Rutgers. He was one of the first to join the Academy as a youngster. Offensive lineman Noah Domingue is another that has shined at camps this spring and has drawn interest from several programs in the Mid-American Conference.

Now the Gridiron Academy has over 100 youths in the program, with 60 or so under the age of 14. A pair of 2017 prospects in receiver cornerback Jonathan Sutherland (5-11, 175) and defensive end/outside linebacker Luiji Vilain (6-2, 210) have already tore up a couple spring camps in the United States. Tedondo is also high on 2015 offensive lineman Cody Wistaff-Walsh.

While Tedondo’s program looks like roses here in the United States, it has ruffled some feathers with the natives up North.

“I’m doing something that’s never been done in Canada,” Tedondo said. “I get no support from Football Canada. They see me being a problem long term. Ask Michael O’Connor when the last time was he got a message from Football Canada.

“Our biggest critics are people here in Ottawa that don’t believe in what we do and what our kids are able to accomplish.”

Tedondo encourages his best skill players like O’Connor to find a high school to attend in the United States to continue grooming them as a player. He feels that lineman can still develop as players in the Canadian game so there transfer isn't as necessary.

“The way the high school coaches look at me, it’s like I’m stealing their kids away and selling them a dream they can’t do,” Tedondo stated. “A lot of them our selfish and want to keep kids here for their own interests so they can win high school championships.

“Where we’re at is where basketball was at in Canada 10 years ago. Now look at a guy like Andrew Wiggins, the number one prospect for basketball in 2013 (in the 247Composite) out of Canada is playing in the United States. They’re scared the same thing is going to happen.”

O’Connor misses being around the guys at Gridiron Academy on a daily basis, but he’s excited about where he’s at with IMG Academy.

“Most people in Ottawa, they don’t think the Gridiron Academy is a good thing for the kids up North,” O’Connor said. “Me coming down to the States, people didn’t agree with it. That’s just part of dealing with it. There is still people that don’t approve what Victor is doing but he knows and everyone in Gridiron Academy knows, and we’re opening doors that weren’t open for Canadian football players. Any time you’re doing something big or beneficial, there are going to be people saying otherwise, but you learn to take it.”

What’s Next

Tedondo doesn’t sleep much.

There is the hours at work. There is the hours at Gridiron Academy. Any vacation days he gets goes towards travel to the States. Recently engaged, Tedondo’s fiancé travels with him on all the trips.

Tedondo is hoping to see many of his kids go on to play college football. When his team arrives for 7-on-7 events in the summer, he wants to see instant respect. That’s where he’s taking his program.

“It’s tough,” Tedondo said. “We don’t get any love at all. When we step in the States we’re labeled as Canadians. For us to get respect in the States it’s hard. Our kids have to be the best.”

Gridiron Academy is giving football players in Canada a chance to be just that.

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