SURREY — Christian Covington sounds like a wise old Owl, even though he has yet to turn 18 or participate in his first football practice with Rice University, whose sports team are named for the great, avian symbol of mortal wisdom.
Covington, a Grade 12 student at Vancouver College, chose Rice, a leading research university in Houston, Texas, over more formidable football powers such as Arizona State when it came to declaring his intentions on National Signing Day, a U.S. tradition on the first Wednesday in February the U.S. when high school seniors formerly sign scholarship papers binding them to the college of their choice.
Taylor Loffler of Kelowna, a quarterback-linebacker who verbally committed to the Boise State University months ago, also put pen to paper at a ceremonial news conference held inside the B.C Lions’ locker room in Surrey.
Loffler is believed to be the first player from Kelowna secondary to earn a college football scholarship to an NCAA Division I school. Covington is the first for Van College since 2008, when Trey Henderson, Brody McKnight and Dan Cordick scored a college football trifecta for the Fighting Irish on National Signing Day.
“I’ve been brought up to think that football is maybe only 10 per cent of an athlete’s life,” Covington explained. “God forbid, if anything should happen to me, that college degree is going to help me for the rest of my life. Football is not the end-all and be-all.
“Arizona State is a very good football school. But I do want to pursue medicine. I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little kid. I want to be a football player/cardiologist.”
Not exactly what you expect to hear from the son of Grover Covington, a Canadian Football Hall of Famer whose 10-year career mark of 157 sacks as a defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still stands as the all-time CFL record. Christian grew up in Surrey, in a household where he could simply pop a video of his dad playing in the 1986 Grey Cup game at BC Place into the player and watch him fly like a bird of prey toward the quarterback.
“My family wanted me to play football of my own accord. They didn’t want me to play simply because of who my dad was,” Covington said. “They even told me, if I was to play football, that the Covington name would be a big burden on my shoulder, having to live under his shadow. I wasn’t the greatest player in grade eight or grade nine. I really wanted to be a quarterback. But, my dad told me, ‘Son, don’t be a quarterback; chase quarterbacks.’”
The Fighting Irish did well enough at it last season — 15 sacks and 89 tackles in 14 games — to be named B.C. high school football’s most valuable defensive player.
“Every Canadian university contacted him,” explained Grover Covington, a North Carolina native who settled in the Vancouver area after his CFL career was done. “The Washington Huskies were looking at him, Cal, Arizona State. [But] Rice was a good fit for him. The classes are small and 90 per cent of them are taught by profs. What really impressed my family is when the coach told us, ‘Your son has great penmanship.’ I’m thinking, ‘What did he just say?’ He’s not talking about his rip, his spin, his tackling abilities. He’s talking penmanship.”
Perhaps it’s a different way they recruit at Rice, studying a football prospect’s handwriting to determine his chances of success. But Owls head coach David Bailiff did make the long flight from Houston last week (and, boy, were his arms tired) to meet with the Covington family and sell them on the virtues of the Houston school.
Rice will represent only the second school Christian has ever attended. He has been a student at Vancouver College since kindergarten. His younger sisters, Asianna and Autumn, are students at nearby Little Flower Academy, and probably destined for National Signing Days of their own.
Asianna, 15, was the provincial high school girls’ shot put champion last year and took bronze medals in the discus and hammer. She was in grade nine at the time. Likewise, Autumn, 13, is an age-group triple threat in the hammer, shot and discus.
One of the neat things about the CFL is the way its history remains an integral part of today’s game. Eight of the nine teams that were in at the formation of the league are still in their original locations, and the exception (Ottawa) is expected to return in the next few years. Moreover, many of the league’s early legends remain connected with the game and the current teams, and all they did and accomplished still feels very relevant. A quintet of figures closely associated with the league passed away in the last month, and it’s worth taking a few moments to remember them and the contributions they made.
— Keith Davey: Davey, pictured at left above with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1976, is most remembered by many for his time as a key Liberal Party figure. He organized the party’s national campaigns in the early 1960s, served in the Senate from 1966 to 1996 and was also a key part of Trudeau’s triumphant election campaigns in 1972 and 1980. However, Davey was also an important figure in the early history of the CFL. He served as the league’s second commissioner, replacing Sydney Halter in 1966 and presiding over both the establishment of the CFL offices on King Street in Toronto, the divide from the amateur-focused Canadian Rugby Union (which gave the new league custody of the Grey Cup, and then became CAFA and then Football Canada), the creation of the players’ pension fund and the rewriting and condensing of the rulebook. Davey’s time with the CFL was brief before he returned full-time to politics — he was succeeded by Ted Workman on Feb. 23, 1967, and Workman was replaced by Allan McEachern before the year was out — but some critical developments happened during his tenure. He passed away Jan. 17 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
— Gary Schreider: Schreider was a notable figure on both the CFL and CIS fronts. He first gained acclaim at Queen’s University, where he played for the Golden Gaels from 1953 to 1955 and was a crucial part of the “Pony Backfield (take that, Craig James!) that led Queen’s to victory in the 1955 Yates Cup (awarded to the Ontario/Quebec champions at the time) over the University of Toronto. He then went on to star in the CFL from 1956 to 1964, spending most of his time with the Ottawa Rough Riders as a linebacker, kicker and running back and helping them to a 16-6 victory over Edmonton in the 1960 Grey Cup. He was one of the league’s biggest Canadian stars, and he helped prove that non-import players could hold their own with the Americans. Here’s part of Earl McRae’s superb remembrance piece on Schreider:
Gary Schreider. Did he matter? Here is that September 1957 story from my scrapbook that encapsulates why Gary Schreider mattered, game after game, year after year, for the Ottawa Rough Riders, and written by sportswriter Lloyd McGowan of the Montreal Star, the headline: “Schreider Sparks Riders Over Als.”
“A few pertinent points were proved here Saturday aside from the 17-16 Rough Riders well-earned win over the Alouettes before a record 19,998 fans at historic Lansdowne Park.”
“It proved among other things that Canadian football players are just as good, or better, than the Amerks once you get past the American publicity and coaching.
“For instance, Gary Schreider was the outstanding player in the game with 11 of the 17 points scored by the Rough Riders. In a Merriwellian performance, Schreider posted 10 points in the last quarter with a touchdown, convert, and last-minute 35-yard field goal that brought the fans surging on to the fine Lansdowne striped lawn.
“The result proved…that Canadians Gary Schreider and Bob Simpson are a match for anything the American game can offer.
Schreider made an impact off the field as well, graduating from Queen’s with a law degree and serving as both the first president of the CFL Players’ Association and the sole arbiter for disputes between the NHL and emerging NHLPA from 1976-1993. His legacy is certainly a strong one, and his story demonstrates both the importance of CIS schools as a developing ground and the quality of play Canadian players can bring to the CFL. He passed away Jan. 22 in Ottawa after a long fight with Alzheimer’s.
— Jack Matheson: It says a lot about Matheson, a legendary Winnipeg sports editor and columnist, that the Blue Bombers’ most famous coach Bud Grant always cared about what he wrote:
“He sure could write,” Grant said. “And he got to be a good friend.”
Someone who’d never break the coach’s trust.
“He honoured it down the line. He would never overstep anything.”
Six months of the year, Grant and Matty would share a love of football and the Blue Bombers. For the other six, they’d share beers after curling together.
Through it all, the writer became a must-read, even for the coach.
“When you opened the paper that was the first thing you turned to – what did Matty say about it?” Grant said.
Matheson is also fondly remembered by the many newspaper people whose lives he touched over the years; Gordon Sinclair Jr. of The Winnipeg Free Press has a nice remembrance of him here. Moreover, though, he and other legendary writers like Jim Coleman and Milt Dunnell did a tremendous amount to promote the CFL in the early days; the league’s enduring popularity and current success has a lot to do with the coverage they and other media members provided over the years. Matheson was inducted into the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1986. He passed away Jan. 24.
— Herb Gray: Another legendary Winnipeg figure, Gray shone for the Blue Bombers from 1956 to 1965. Ed Tait writes that a case can be made that Gray was “the greatest defensive lineman in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history,” and he’d definitely have to be considered among the elite. Gray played both ways and was selected as a West Division all-star six times at defensive end and once at guard. He also became the first defensive player to capture the CFL’s top lineman award in 1960. The Bombers named him their top defensive player of the half-century in 1980 and selected him to their All-Time team in 2006. Gray starred at other