Alouettes growing football in Quebec

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Beaconsfield's Nicolas Dea, a centre with the Lakeshore Cougars peewee football team, snaps the ball like a pro now and he takes pride in the fact he hasn't fumbled a snap to the quarterback in the past two years.

He attributes his excellent record to advice from Alouettes centre Bryan Chiu given to him three years ago when he first attended the annual Junior Alouettes Football Camp.

This year, Chiu has shown Dea, 12, how to block with his hands.

Dea was one of almost 1,000 youngsters - age 7 to 17 - to attend the latest edition of the camp held last weekend at Molson Stadium and the previous weekend in Trois Rivieres and Sherbrooke to get more tips from Chiu and 11 other current and former Alouettes.

The Alouettes camp has attracted players from various parts of the city, including five members of the bantam

St. Bruno Barons and their coach, Serge Dupuis, and several players from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Thanks to Telus, 25 youngsters attended the camps for free.

And there was a bonus at the camp last weekend - plenty of rain on Saturday and a few drops on Sunday.

"I like it in the rain," Dea said. "It's lots of fun. It's more of a challenge. When you play football, you have to be ready for snow and everything. It's cool."

That kind of toughness and willingness buoyed Chiu and the rest of the Alouettes and they laughed, joked and exchanged high fives with the youngsters as the workout progressed through blocking drills, pass patterns and full-contact scrimmages.

Uzooma Okeke, the big lineman who organized the on-field activities, called the players over to centre field before the scrimmage to remind them to insert their mouthguards and attach their chinstraps.

"We tell the kids it's all about teamwork, but we also tell them to stay in school," Okeke said. "They can't put all their energy into football. Great football players have to be smart as well."

There was plenty of cheering as good blocks and tackles were made, passes completed and plays run properly.

"We keep it really simple because there isn't enough time for anything complicated," the Alouettes' Paul Lambert said.

"It makes you feel good as a coach when you see them make a good play," added Bruno Heppell, who retired last year after a punishing career as an Als fullback, which included seven operations to repair torn-up knees.

What you saw on the turf at the camp was basically the past, present and future of football in Quebec.

Heppell, who has been coaching at the Alouettes camps for 10 years, represents the past and likes what he sees of the future of football in Quebec.

He talked about the spectacular growth of the game in the past 10 years, led by the return of the Alouettes to Montreal, and the establishment of the Rouge et Or at the Universite Laval. The growth is continuing this year, with two more teams joining the CEGEP league and the creation of more community teams.

Heppell said the quality of the athletes is increasing as rapidly as the quantity, and the trickle of Quebec players going to the

National Football League will soon become a steady stream.

"We've got good athletes here," said Heppell, who has launched a post-football career in communications, including a show on satellite radio. "Quebec is producing so many good athletes and the coaching is getting better, too."

Chiu said the rain on Saturday didn't bother the youngsters.

"They learned that this is what football is all about," he said. "They're having a lot of fun."

Lambert said the camp was fun for the Alouettes, too, because it was the final weekend before the start of training camp in St. Jean sur Richelieu.

"These kids remind us of why we play football," Chiu said. "We play for the love of the game."

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