Dylon Machura marches the ball downfield during a 2013 regular season match up with the St. Paul Lions. Machura was recently named to the University of Alberta Golden Bears football program.
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Two Lions prepare for jump to Golden Bears football
After picking up back-to-back Wheatland Football League championships, Trent Johnson and Dylon Machura of the 2013 St. Paul Lions roster have made history by becoming the first Lions to crack a post-secondary roster with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
“We've had so many talented players over the years, and if they put their nose to the grindstone the way these two guys have done, then they too could have been playing university football,” said 2013 Lions Coach Todd Tanasichuk. “I don't think that we can take a lot of credit, we've helped them with the football side of things but they've worked hard away from the field, both in the weight room and in their classes. Obviously their teachers had an impact there too and they've done a great job with them, but ultimately it's them. They've wanted it and they've done the work necessary to get there.”
The two players will be approaching the opportunity from different standpoints. While Johnson hopes to pursue a football career for as long as possible, Machura is unsure if he will be able to afford much time on the gridiron, as obtaining an engineering degree is his top priority.
“It's going to come down to whether or not I can budget my time, and whether or not the practices will take too much out of me for school,” Machura said of the decisions ahead. “I could already tell in my Grade 12 year that stuff is getting a lot more complicated, so it's going to require more attention.”
Johnson started playing football in Grade 6, and said he knew it was something he wanted to pursue for a long time to come.
“I decided, just pick a path and let God guide you. I figured I might as well take football as far as I can and see what happens from there,” said Johnson, who will be attending the U of A for native studies with the hope of raising his marks to get into the science program. “I definitely want to take school seriously, but I'm mainly going for football.”
Lions Offensive Coordinator and current Head Coach John Lumby praised the work ethic of Johnson and Machura, both as elite athletes and strong students.
“They've been some of our best leaders and some of our best players. This is certainly a step that they can definitely handle. They've got strong character and they're really good football players too. The fact that they work hard in school and excel in school is also a real testament to their character,” he said. “They've got bright futures ahead of them, maybe they have a chance at playing professional football, it's possible. But the fact that they're going to university, they'll be educating themselves further and setting themselves up for success in life, whether it's with football or something else down the road.”
Johnson pointed out the coaching staff at the U of A was very encouraging to the up and coming stars, and that the team will provide educational support for players throughout the season.
“They were lots of fun. They're definitely committed to football and they're willing to understand your situation with schooling and trying to do football,” he said. “They have a two-hour study period, mandatory for all rookies, after school and before practice.”
Tanasichuk added he feels it is great that the U of A will be coaching its athletes both with their playing skills and with schoolwork, as the jump to university is a big transition to make on both fronts.
“The U of A has kind of stepped up their game and now they're recognizing that they need to help these guys,” said Tanasichuk, adding programs like engineering require a great deal of time and effort. “To try and do all (their schoolwork) and be a dedicated athlete can be pretty tough, so they're helping them with these things. These guys are maybe getting a little bit of extra help because of football that they woulnd't get otherwise.”
The past few years have seen a number of advancements for St. Paul Lions Football. In 2008, Lions alumni Warren Jurak made the jump from high school football to junior football, which Tanasichuk said started a trend. In the years to come, Nathan Gardiner, Mark Proskiw, Zac Smith and Jason Jubinville have followed suit, embedding themselves into the Canadian Junior Football League, and now Johnson and Machura will have shot at playing with the Golden Bears in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
“Warren kind of got the ball rolling, showed that it could be done. Then Nathan followed up, and the other guys followed up. Now Dylon and Trent are trendsetters,” said Tanasichuk. “They're making the path for the other guys, we can point to them and say, “See, it's possible.” You don't have to go play in the city to be able to make these levels, you just have to work hard and know what you want to do.”
Machura added a thank you to the coaching staff of the St. Paul Lions who helped prepare him and his teammates for pressure situations, and encouraged them to follow their passions.
“They taught us how to play at a high level, that's for sure, especially coming off those two championships,” he said. “They also taught us that sometimes you just need to do what you've got to do.”