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Two Ottawa Ahtletes Chase NCAA Football Dreams

Two Ottawa Athletes Chase NCAA Football Dreams


By Martin Cleary, The Ottawa Citizen

Sean Decloux’s ranking after appearing at the Eastern Showcase Camp, part of the Kohl’s Football Kicking Camps program, has earned him a ticket to Kohl’s biggest event, the National Invitational Scholarship Camp July 23-24 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of Jim Mick, the head coach of St. Peter Catholic High School’s senior football team.

In 2009, he lost his star quarterback. It was a blow, but there was a surprise - and happy - ending.

Now, as he tries to build his ninth National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championship team in his 18th year with the Knights, he’s about to lose two pillar players, the highly touted defensive end Eli Ankou and rising punter-kicker Sean Decloux.

This time, he’s not expecting a happy ending. Well, maybe. Partially.

Let’s go back two years when Mick lost quarterback Alex Skinner, who went to a high school in Largo, Florida to chase his dream of earning a full football scholarship to an NCAA Division 1 university.

The Florida experience didn’t prove to be all sunshine for Skinner, though, and he returned to St. Peter mid-season, in time to lead the Knights to city and provincial high school titles.

Skinner, a straight-A student with a near-perfect Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 1530, took another stab at his NCAA dream last fall, attending Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. At the end of his high school football career there, the Canadian powerhouse Laval University, winners of six CIS football titles in 16 years, his post-secondary choice.

Now to the present. Following the 2010 NCSSAA football season, which saw St. Peter defeat Ashbury Colts for the title, Mick expected Ankou and Decloux, both Grade 11 students, to be two of the foundations on his roster for the 2011 season.

That probably won’t happen. Ankou and Decloux are planning to approach football from an American perspective for the next five years.

Under their grand plan, they hope to move to Bear, Delaware, complete their high school education at the Red Lion Christian Academy and play football for one of the American high school powerhouses in 2011-12. Their ultimate goal is to play well, get recognized and earn full athletic scholarships to an NCAA Division 1 school for the following four years.

“Perhaps we are starting to become victims of our own success,” Mick wrote ruefully in an e-mail.

Even before Ankou heads south, he’s already made significant progress in obtaining a full scholarship. After playing for St. Peter and the Ottawa Sooners and attending 10 football camps in the past year, he has received full scholarship offers from UCLA, the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University.

But he’s not taking any of those for granted.

“I’m trying to broaden my view of American football by heading to Red Lion Christian Academy,” Ankou, who is 6-3, 252 pounds, said in an interview. “It that doesn’t work, we’ll head to West Philadelphia Catholic.”

Ankou, 17, decided to gain more visibility and recognition this year.

He was one of the top defensive rushers at the U.S. army National Combine in San Antonio, Texas, in January, which puts the Top 500 North American high school players through body measurements, physical tests and position-specific skill tests. After Nike football camps this spring at Penn State and Rutgers universities, he earned MVP honours.

“Getting an invitation to the Army combine shed a lot of light on my abilities. There were a lot of great players from the U.S. As a Canadian, I felt honoured to be invited,” said Ankou, who is recognized for his speed, agility and explosiveness off the line.

He produced a video from those experiences and UCLA was the first with a verbal scholarship offer.

Ankou won’t play any football this summer and will concentrate on improving his defensive skills at more instructional camps.

“As a Canadian, I’m showing a lot of personal commitment and I’m willing to travel to play the game. Coaches admire that,” he added.

Although he has three university scholarship offers, he wants to make the most of playing at Red Lion before signing a national letter of intent.

“As a coach, you want to put pressure on the player to choose their university,” Ankou said. “But I’m not affected by that. I’m trying to make the most important decision of my life. The decision I make will be based on academics and football.” He hopes to study either kinesiology or business.

For his part, Decloux is a step behind Ankou. He doesn’t have any offers in his back pocket, but the kicker has taken an aggressive approach to winning that athletic lottery.

He visited the Red Lion Academy last winter because of its strong football program. While “nothing is 100 per cent,” he says, it “looks like I’m going to Delaware.”

It’s really the only serious option for Decloux, 17, who only started punting seriously less than a year ago.

“My ultimate goal is playing football in the NCAA,” said Decloux, who will play for Eastern Ontario in the Canada Cup July 6-16 in Lethbridge. “To do that, the opportunities are not here in Canada. We don’t see many NCAA scouts at games.”

So he decided to go where the scouts and camps are: in the U.S. He attended the Eastern Showcase Camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is part of the highly respected Kohl’s Football Kicking Camps program. He ranked 18th out of 160 athletes in the company’s first of three rankings for the class of 2012.

His ranking was based on distance and hang time for 10 punts. His non-game average hang time was 4.34 seconds and his best was 5.08 seconds. The NCAA game average is 4.5 seconds.

Twenty-two of the Top 25 punters on Kohl’s Punting National Rating System from the class of 2011 have earned NCAA football scholarships.

At the Eastern Showcase Camp, Decloux hit two punts with more than five seconds of hang time and his kickoffs were equally impressive. Decloux’s rating assessment added he needed work on both areas to “maximize his talent,” and develop consistency.

Camp director Jamie Kohl gave Decloux high praise in an article for ESPN Recruiting: “Decloux proved he could play college football in the United States.”

His ranking also earned him a ticket to Kohl’s biggest event, the National Invitational Scholarship Camp July 23-24 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“If I get a Top 10 or Top 15 result, the chances of a Division 1 scholarship are reasonably high,” he said. “It means I could play at St. Peter (in 2011). I would mean a lot of schools will look at me, and I won’t need that extra exposure.”

Decloux was a kicker for St. Peter juniors for two years and the Cumberland Panthers teams. But he considered himself a slotback first and a kicker second.

He kicked for the St. Peter seniors in 2010, when he developed his love of the discipline. It was then that his personal trainer, Victor Tedondo, suggested he try Kohl’s punting camp. He went, and stayed on for two days for private lessons from co-founder John Kohl, a move that proved invaluable.

“I learned a ton,” added Decloux, who taught himself how to punt by watching the professionals on You Tube and having his mother film his practice sessions.

The added investment might be the difference between an NCAA scholarship or playing in Canada.

Winners’ circle

The Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club earned its seventh consecutive team title at the Ontario junior championships in Toronto, winning 10 medals, including five gold. The gold medallists were Emma Galbraith (800 and 1,500 metres as well as anchoring the sprint medley relay team of Evelyn Scott, Tracy Edwards and Emery Terrell), Ashlea Maddex (100-metre hurdles) and Devin Biocchi (400 metres). Eight Ottawa and area athletes have been named by CanoeKayak to its national whitewater slalom team for the 2011 World Cups and world championships: John Hastings, Cameron Smedley, Julian Potvin Bernal, Adam and Jamie Cutts, Sarah Boudens, Thea Froehlich and Alexandra McGee. Nepean Hotspurs Soccer Club head coach Boris Bajagic has been appointed to the Ontario Soccer Association’s Long Term Player Development technical advisory council.

Figure skater Shawn Sawyer of Edmundston, N.B., who formerly trained at the Minto Skating Club, has turned professional. Emily Carmichael of Oxford-on-Rideau Public School won two girls’ 13-14 age-group races in impressive times at the MBNA Eastern Ontario elementary school track and field championships last weekend at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility. She followed that this week by winning the senior girls’ 400, 800 and 1,500 metres at the Leeds and Grenville elementary school track and field championships, breaking two records and missing the 400-metre record by two one-hundreths of a second. Luigi Costanzo has been hired by the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees football team as its second full-time assistant coach. Costanzo will remain as special team co-ordinator and succeed Rick Zmich as alumni outreach co-ordinator.

Reach Martin Cleary at mcleary@ottawacitizen.com or 613-596-3748