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The changing face of football in Quebec

by Archives September 14, 2005

When the Montreal Alouettes drafted Sylvain Girard in the first round of the 1999 CFL Entry Draft it was more than a hometown boy making good. It marked a turning point of Canadian football, on both a professional and university level.

When the Baltimore Stallions relocated to Montreal for the 1996 season to revive the Alouettes, it turned a new generation of kids to the game of football. The city and the province that had gone without a CFL team for 10 years were about to experience an unexpected surge in popularity and love for football.

“I don’t think the [Alouettes] have anything to do with how good the players are,” said Girard before the Stingers 23-11 win over Bishop’s. “I do think the team had more kids interested in playing football who otherwise would be playing another sport. I’d say especially since 1997-1998, football has been booming in this province and of course, the more young kids you have playing, the more talent you’ll find at the end of the line.”

“Just look at the CFL, how many players have come from the province of Quebec? It’s amazing to me to see the difference from not even 10 years ago,” he said.

From the time Canadian Interuniversity Sport started to hold annual football championships in 1965, only two teams from Quebec, until 1997, were in the final of the then-CIAU championships. McGill lost to Saint Mary’s in the 1973 final and then won the 1987 championship by beating the University of British Columbia. But in the last seven years, a Quebec team has won the Vanier Cup three times(Laval in 1999, 2003 and 2004) and one other team has made the final (Concordia in 1998). University football in Quebec has had such a rise in popularity that in the last four years, two new football programs have started. The University of Montreal and the University of Sherbrooke have started new programs to soak in the sea that is the love of football in Quebec.

Also, the Quebec conference is also arguably the strongest in the Country. Out of the top ten teams in Canada, three are from Quebec. That rivals Ontario, who also has three, albeit out of a much larger pool of programs.

“The Quebec football conference has so many talented players, and the teams are so talented, I think that it is the strongest division in Canada,” Girard said. “Whoever comes out as Quebec champion has a great chance to make a run for the title.”

With all the football talent from Quebec and around Canada in general, Canadian players are garnering more and more interest from colleges and professional teams in the United States. Girard says that this is only a good thing for Canadian football.

“A few players go down there and make a good impression, and then coaches and scouts down south aren’t worried to come back here because they know we have talented football players and the talent level will keep rising and rising,” Girard said. “It means that more and more players will have a chance to get a scholarship to go to the States.”

Girard still keeps in touch with the Stingers and tries to go to two home games a year. He’s also in regular contact with head coach Gerry McGrath.

The former Stinger is impressed with the 2005 edition of the team, but wouldn’t hazard a guess as to where they’d finish.

“It’s always hard to say at the beginning of the season because players could come out of nowhere, and then you have to deal with injuries. In football, it’s such a short season and in the playoffs it’s a one-game deal. They have a good group of players and they will only get better as the year goes on.”

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