Eden grad reaching football potential
At first glance, Keaton Bruggeling was a surprise pick by U SPORTS and the Canadian Football League to the 2021 East-West Bowl roster.
No game will be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the rosters include the next generation of top Canadian football prospects and identifies 110 U SPORTS-eligible standouts for the 2022 CFL Draft.
Playing for the Carleton Ravens in the 2019 Ontario University Athletics season, the 22-year-old Port Dalhousie native recorded only eight catches for 65 yards.
“We had a lot of seniors that year and it was always a potential thing for me,” the 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver said. “I always had the potential and the athleticism but it was just about the game slowing down and clicking for me.”
All of that happened in the spring of 2020.
“That spring camp after having one season of playing under my belt and seeing defences, I was fully dominating,” he said. “It was a big jump for me and I was playing really well. I was putting up so much bigger numbers on lifts and I feel like I am a man now.”
He was pulled aside by his coaches and encouraged to keep going and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“When I first got the news, it was upsetting but I looked at it more as an opportunity. About two weeks after the season got cancelled, I figured the pandemic was going to create one of the biggest gaps in skill ever,” the Eden graduate said. “There are kids who are going to sit down and do absolutely nothing until three months before the season starts whereas myself and my roommates and the new fantastic culture we have at Carleton are all balls to the wall.
“We have gone to town and haven’t looked back since then.”
Bruggeling can’t wait for the 2021 season.
“There are going to be some sorry Sam (strongside) linebackers that haven’t been lifting.”
Bruggeling came back to St. Catharines in March 2020 when the pandemic first hit and then returned to school in the fall. Carleton staged almost a full fall camp without pads, working on skills. Workouts continued until the province locked down again in December but that didn’t stop Bruggeling.
“We have a full gym at my student house here and we’re definitely owning the grind. There is no slacking.”
He shares the house with three other football players and they are motivating each other.
“It’s all about accountability. I wake up some days and I don’t want to lift and I get a knock on my door and someone is telling me we are doing this,” Bruggeling said. “We have a big whiteboard in our kitchen where we write down random things like ‘OUAs are wide open and it is ours to take.’ Someone crossed out my OUA thing and put Vanier above it.”
All his hard work paid off when it was announced that he has been chosen for the East-West Bowl roster.
“I was definitely surprised because of my lack of production but it clearly shows that potential is there for me. I just needed reps and for the game to slow down. I am a film junkie now and I love watching (game) film. And I am now the Madden (video game) champ of our team.”
Bruggeling views the selection as validation.
“It is the first time my name has hit the market and the first time I have gotten any exposure,” he said. “It’s amazing and a huge honour, especially to do it beside Josh Ferguson, who is one of my roommates, and with all the Niagara dominance (six players from Niagara selected).”
The selection has given him even more motivation for the 2021 season.
“It just adds to the fire and I just have to prove that I was meant to be there on the roster. I don’t want there to be any doubts at the end of the season who belongs and who doesn’t belong.”
He feels the next step in his progression is to get more reps.
“This will be the first time I will get to take the field as a slotback,” he said. “As a big dude, I struggle on the line a little bit and I know my limitations. But with a run up and the way they are implementing a new offence, they are really playing to my strengths. I am really excited to get out there and take some linebackers’ heads off.”
The environmental studies major started playing football at Eden in Grade 9 and, after his Grade 10 season, he told his parents that he wanted to play for the Spears. He played all over the field with the junior varsity Spears before settling in as a receiver with the Spears varsity squad.
Spears head coach Brian Duguay played a big role in his development.
“He got me started and was the first man who ever believed in me that I could play receiver,” Bruggeling said. “He really set the tone, gave us a good feeling and prepared us well for the next level.”
Bruggeling played four years of football at Eden and takes a lot of pride in being the first Eden grad to suit up at the OUA level.
“I really love that idea. It sucks that our football seasons match up and I can’t be there but I would absolutely love to get back coach with them and the Spears in the summer,” he said. “I would love to tell these athletes that they have a chance. It’s real, it’s viable and there is a stream for you to get an education, network with a team and get cosy with the alumni. You can put yourself in a fantastic situation for later in life.”
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