Ballenas senior Liviano Canil (85) rushes John Barsby quarterback Cameron Wright during the teams’ game in Nanaimo last Sept. 23.

Ballenas gridder signs with NCAA program

Grade 12 'rookie' Liviano Canil takes just one year of high school football experience to Simon Fraser University

Liviano Canil’s entire high school football career spanned just eight games. But Canada’s only NCAA university football program is already describing the Ballenas Secondary School senior as having “a shot to be an impact player at tight end.”

Canil signed a letter of intent to attend and play for Simon Fraser University on Feb. 1. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, a two-sport standout who also plays basketball for Ballenas, played his lone season of high school football last fall after several years away from the sport.

“I just played football because all my friends were playing,” Canil said of his decision to try the sport for the first time since playing for the Oceanside Lions peewee and junior bantam programs.

He made an instant impact for a Whalers senior team that would go on to reach the provincial AA football quarterfinals, securing roles as a receiver, defensive end, kicker and punter.

In his opening game, at Belmont Secondary in Langford, Canil caught five passes for 120 yards and intercepted a pass on defence. The following week, he caught the winning touchdown pass in a 35-34 win over John Barsby Secondary in Nanaimo.

Ballenas receiver Liviano Canil plays to the end zone crowd at Nanaimo’s Merle Logan Field after catching the winning touchdown pass in the Whaler’s Sept. 23 win over John Barsby Secondary. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

“He hit the ground running,” said Dan Smith, the Ballenas head coach who was a standout university quarterback at the University of British Columbia. “He was already a very good athlete, and another thing that bodes well for him is he’s extremely competitive.”

Canil had 10 catches for 258 yards and four touchdowns, all team highs, and his defensive highlights included an 85-yard touchdown on a returned fumble, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.

“I think they have a diamond in the rough,” Ballenas head coach Dan Smith said of Simon Fraser. “A lot of people, because they haven’t watched him in a few years, lost track of him. He’ll be competing against very high-calibre players who have had a lot more football experience, but he won’t be playing against anybody who works harder than he does.”

Simon Fraser is the only Canadian school playing in the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference, which includes teams from Washington, Oregon and California.

Canil said he was recruited by several schools on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland for basketball, but had his sights set on college football after playing for Ballenas last fall.

Simon Fraser head coach Kelly Bates could not be reached for comment, but Canil said he was recruited to play on the offensive side of the ball.

“The thing they said they liked was that I was like a bigger wide receiver,” said Canil, who will play tight end but who is capable of splitting out wide. “I like offense more.”

Smith said it will be easier for Canil to make the adjustment to collegiate ball learning an offensive playbook, rather than the multiple challenges faced by a linebacker or defensive back reading opposing offences.

“I believe that whatever position coach is working with him, when they see his work ethic, they’re gonna find a way to get him on the field,” said Smith.