Out of all the memories from playing football in San Antonio, Jack Vernon’s favourite memory came off the field.
“Every morning, we would have meetings. All the teams would go down and get spoken to by a bunch of speakers,” said Vernon, who quarterbacks the Lawrence Park Panthers during the fall, and trains with the Metro Toronto Wildcats year-round. “They’re telling you everything need to know for your future, saying ‘Life starts now, your high school and college is going to prepare you for the rest of your life. Make all the right decisions, [and] pretend you’re going to a job interview everyday.’ ”
Vernon was one of four Torontonians to participate in the Youth All-American Bowl in San Antonio in January. The game pitted a Canadian all-star selection team against some of the best high school football players in the United States.
“That was probably my favourite time playing football,” said Vernon, a grade 10 student who plans to join the Panthers’ senior team in the fall if extra-curriculars are being offered by the school. “I only got to play a half, which made me mad. I didn’t care what the score was, I just wanted to play — that was the reason I went down there.
“At the end of the day, it was overall one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
Despite losing the game 34–0, the experience for Vernon, and Wildcats teammates Esson Hamilton and Jerrom Ogen Rwot — a receiver and defensive back, respectively — was to be treasured.
“Having them down there also helped a lot because we got to know some guys,” said Vernon. “I know the people going down there made it a lot easier, but just being out there in practice and talking to the guys, they’re all great guys. It wasn’t hard to make friends.”
Training with the Wildcats year-round, and competing in the Ontario Varsity Football League during the summer, Vernon has been honing his game, envisioning a future in Canadian university football.
“I want to take football as far as I can, to the highest level,” said Vernon, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback at the junior varsity level.
Even though Vernon and the Canadians lost by a large margin, the experience was still a good one.
“At this age group the US usually has a huge edge as their boys have 5–6 years of Pop Warner under their belt. The athletes are comparable [in size, but their angles to the ball, line play and football IQ’s are better only because they have played a lot more ball,” said Wildcats staff, on their website.
The Youth All-American Bowl, broadcast Jan. 6 from the Alamodome, was also streamed online for an international audience. Hamilton, who plays at the bantam level, was also able to fill-in his Wildcats here with blog updates.
“Hey MTW, It’s Esson, just here with my daily updates,” Hamilton wrote, the day of the game. “We had a good practice today I dropped a couple passes. Our team is looking good and hopefully we can pull a W for Team Canada.
“I’ve meet a lot of new people, Jerrom and Jack are looking good and I’m really enjoying myself. Having a lot of fun and I really like the coaches the game will be on 5:15 so hopefully you watch it.”
Vernon, who has been playing football for five years, brought a lot of skill to the Panthers in grade 9. When incumbent quarterback Greg Dossett graduated to the senior team this year, Vernon took the reins.
“I get the occasional kid, like Jack, who has had Wildcats experience, and it really helps,” said Peter Gilbert, who has been coaching the Lawrence Park junior squad for 14 years. “Jack came in this year, and we basically try to take the talented players that we got, and integrate them into a plan. This year, we changed our offence quite a bit because we knew we could throw more.”
With Vernon’s skill in the pass and rush game, the Panthers ended up with a perfect regular season, beating the likes of the Northern Red Knights and Central Tech Blues. The Panthers may have lost in the city semifinals against Richview, but there were a lot of positives to pull from.
“I think Jack, he didn’t really say that he wasn’t challenged or wasn’t happy with what we did. I think he was happy with how he played, and he had a lot of room for individual achievement,” Gilbert said.
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