FOR THE MORNING STAR
The Vernon Panthers continue to supply players to one of the elite post-secondary football programs in U Sports football.
Four players that played for the Panthers are now on the roster of the University of Calgary Dinos, the 2019 Vanier Cup champions. More are on their way.
The pipeline began when Dinos head coach Wayne Harris recruited linebacker Carson Labrecque in 2016. Although Labrecque played just one game with the Scarlet and Gold due to injury he set the tone for other Panthers.
“Carson had an incredible work ethic and dedication that earned everyone’s respect. He was our initial recruit from the VSS program that Sean (Head Coach Sean Smith) runs and helped spread the word about our program. He set a standard of work ethic for other VSS players,” said Harris.
A year later Josh Hyer followed Labrecque to Calgary. Hyer has been part of the defensive line rotation since 2018 after “red-shirting” in his initial season. He is now a mainstay on the Dinos defensive front and was a member of the 2019 national championship team.
Receiver Zack Smith, offensive lineman Brady Szeman, and linebacker Liam Reid joined the program after winning the Provincial AA Championship for the Panthers in 2019, but with COVID restrictions in 2020, had to wait until this year to fully participate. Reid and Smith dressed in the team’s opening game of the season against the University of Saskatchewan on September 25 at McMahon Stadium.
Two more Panthers will join the Dinos program in 2022. Roan Reid, Liam’s younger brother, and Kolby Thorpe have already committed.
“Everyone that goes to VSS dream is to play for the Dinos,” said Roan Reid who has followed the Dinos since he was 14-years-old. Roan has been a member of BC’s U16 and U18 teams. “Josh (Hyer) and Carson (Labrecque) started the pipeline and spread the word. Reid will enroll in the Haskayne School of Business. Roan spoke to Alberta, UBC, and Simon Fraser but never visited those schools as he wanted to play in Calgary with older brother Liam.
Harris acknowledges the job Smith and his coaches have done with the VSS program.
“They (Vernon Secondary School) have had great success. They’ve done an excellent job of developing young players for us,” Harris said.
Smith recognizes the encouragement the Dinos have provided the VSS program. “
I’ve felt the Calgary staff has always gone out of their way to assess and help develop our players. Matt Berry (defensive coordinator) made visits during their bye week, and Wayne always made a point of coming to Vernon to sign our players in front of the school. I think that went a long way to fostering a good relationship. Some of their players and coaches came out and did a spring camp for us.
“All of my players that attended that camp (including the four that are currently on the Calgary roster) started to follow the Dinos. Once the relationship was established, it made it a lot easier for my guys to head east instead of the natural pipeline of going west to UBC.”
Jack Neumann is the longtime former sports information director for the University of Calgary