The 103rd installment of the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup will have a distinct hometown feel, as two former Ballenas Whalers will be going head to head in Winnipeg.
With the Ottawa Redblacks taking on the Edmonton Eskimos this Sunday, two local boys will be playing it out on the biggest stage in the CFL. Andrew Marshall, of Nanoose Bay, and Justin Sorensen, of Parksville, will battle it out with their respective teams to see who will come away Grey Cup champions.
“This is the first year we will be guaranteed a Ballenas Whalers alumnus will have his name engraved on the Grey Cup,” Superintendent Rollie Koop, often seen at Whalers home games, said at Tuesday’s School District 69 board meeting.
Marshall, who plays defensive lineman and is on the special teams unit as well, graduated from Ballenas in 2008, was drafted in the third round of the CFL expansion draft in 2013 after playing for Simon Fraser University.
Sorensen, playing centre on the offensive line for the Eskimos, was a member of the Whalers provincial championship team in 2002 and played his college football for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Sorensen was a first round pick (fifth overall) by the B.C. Lions in 2008.
“It’s incredible,” Whalers coach Jeremy Conn said. “Whaler nation is very proud of them. They were great players for us when they were here and they still stay connected with us. It shows the quality of the football program we have here. Now the only problem is who do I root for on Sunday?”
Conn recalls both players during their time at Ballenas, where he coached Marshall and saw Sorensen over the years.
“Justin was dominant,” Conn said. “I remember him playing in a seven on seven tournament as a quarterback, that’s the kind of athlete he was in high school. Andrew was the same way; he was such a force for us on defence. Our motto was “Andrew will take care of it” when he was here. Teams stopped running on us because of him, the only way they could ever beat us was to throw the ball.”
Koop called it “a tribute to the folks who continue to work in that program, that (it) would be represented on both sides of the ball in that game and that these kids who had a great experience here in Parksville are now having an opportunity to compete in professional football at the highest level in Canada.”
— with files from J.R. Rardon