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U of T student selected in CFL draft

"It's surreal," says political science and cities studies major

UTSC student Aaron Wheaton began playing competitive football six years ago (photo by Lindsay Nemeth)

When Aaron Wheaton stepped on the field for his first competitive football game in Grade 11 he could only dream of where it would one day take him.

Wheaton, a political science and city studies major at UTSC, was picked 28th overall by the expansion Ottawa Redblacks in the recent 2014 CFL draft. In doing so he’s taken one step closer to realizing a newfound dream: playing professional football.

“It’s surreal,” he says, “I knew that teams were interested in me, but after seeing my name on the draft board I just thought to myself ‘oh boy, this is it!’”

It’s a remarkable achievement considering Wheaton started playing competitive football less than six years ago. After missing tryouts in Grade 9 and separating his shoulder the following year, he finally made the varsity team for J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate Institute in his hometown of Ajax, Ontario.   

“I had no idea where football would take me,” says Wheaton, who grew up playing hockey. “I didn’t think it was possible to play university football let alone getting drafted by a professional team.”

He represented U of T at the 2013 East West Bowl but his most cherished moment as a Varsity Blue came during rookie year when he started in a victory over the number-two ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees. He also witnessed the rise of the Varsity Blues from a team once marred by a 49-game losing streak into one that is now expected to regularly contend for a playoff spot.

“All credit goes to (head coach) Greg Gary and the coaching staff,” says Wheaton. “They’ve really created a competitive atmosphere around the team to the point where we are always focusing on making the playoffs.”

Juggling a full course load with practices, team meetings and games put Wheaton’s time-management skills to the test. There’s also the sacrifice of countless hours working out in the gym twice per day and sticking to a strict diet in order to stay in top shape. He says they’re all sacrifices he wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

Wheaton still has one more year of eligibility, so if he doesn’t make the Redblacks after training camp, he can return to the Varsity Blues program in the fall and complete the half-semester he needs to finish his degree.

Now that he’s one step closer to playing professionally, Wheaton hopes there are more memories to be made through the game he only recently discovered.

Don Campbell is a writer with the University of Toronto Scarborough

June 02, 2014