CFL How to: Surviving training camp


We are just over a week into #CFLTC, if you can believe it!

We already have one pre-season game in the books – the Edmonton Eskimos topped the BC Lions 22-7 at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

For the rest of the league, who start their pre-season schedule this weekend, players are grinding hard across the country getting ready for the 2019 campaign.

The next few weeks are just that, a grind, that will be filled with early mornings, late nights, meetings, and, in some cases, sleeping in dorm-style rooms as everyone fights for spots on their respective team’s rosters.

And each player has their own secret to surviving training camp.


Edmonton Eskimos linebacker Don Unamba (who had an interception in the first play of the game on Sunday, by the way. No big deal.) has his own checklist he likes to follow (a checklist that is full of very, very good ideas):

  1. Stretch bands
  2. Case of Gatorade
  3. Sunflower Seeds for meetings (he says these are a must)
  4. Pringles and Peanut M&Ms for late-night snacks

Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Derek Dennis has been through camp many times before, now heading into his fifth season in the CFL, and has figured out exactly how to get through it.

To help with the wear and tear of the daily on-field activities, Dennis brings a bunch of things keep his body healthy including essential B vitamins, flax seed oils, joint creams, protein powder for shakes, pre-workout, amino powder, Pedialyte and a lot of water. As for comfort? He says he needs a mattress topper for the dorm beds and a TV and video game console to keep busy in between practices and meetings.

As for Dennis’ teammate Kamar Jorden, any form of entertainment is a must. He has to have his laptop (he says he would go crazy without it) to watch Netflix, YouTube, or just browsing the internet. “Anything that gives your mind a break from alllll that football is essential for me,” he said.

Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. needs his bible, his DVD collection, water, vitamin energy and Casper bedding (I can see a trend around the league that the dorm beds are not comfortable!). He also needs morning and night FaceTime sessions with his kiddos – dad duties never stop, even when you’re playing football!

I had a chat with Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Jamaal Westerman at McMaster University last week after the team’s fourth day of camp. As soon as I asked about training camp necessities, he did not hesitate with his answer.

“Gotta get two really nice pillows,” he said. “That’s key. A nice warm blanket. Shower shoes. You don’t want the fungus on your toes. You’ve gotta have your Netflix on point.”

Along with those material things, Westerman says a good mindset is just as important to bring with you.

“A good attitude,” he continued. “You’ve got to bring a good attitude to training camp because it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long. It’s going to be tough. There’s going to be adversity. (You’ve got to) have a good attitude and come out and have fun.”


Training camp is a time for vets to come together and start preparing for the season, but it’s also a chance for rookies to prove their worth and fight for a place on the roster.

“One piece of advice that was given to me when I was young at my first day, and I try to carry it every day, was ‘don’t count the days, make the days count.’” remembered Westerman when asked what advice he’d give players attending their first training camp. “Obviously, that’s not my quote but it was one that was given to me as a rookie. Don’t count how long, don’t count how many guys they’re keeping at a certain position, how many guys they’re going to cut, when’s the cut day.

“Just focus on your job, focus on your technique, focus on the small things everyday and make everything you do count. Try to show up on film in a good way. Don’t count the bad things, just try to show up every day.”

And the best part of camp?

“The best part of training camp is when you see things come together,” said Westerman. “For me, being in training camp for a while, when you see the defence coming together. We’re communicating louder, we’re running around together. Guys knowing other guys positions, which allows us to play a lot better, a lot smarter as a group. And seeing everybody again. Most of the time in the CFL you’re gone for six months, you don’t see anybody and now you come out here and get to see everyone.

“You haven’t seen guys for months. Guys are now married, they’re having kids, guys finishing up school. It’s just fun to hear the off-season stories. You’re gone for six months and you see your brothers again it’s like, ‘guess what?’ ‘what?’ ‘I’m having a kid, I got married or I went to Fiji’ so that’s always great to hear the stories.”

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