Football | Canadian players gain invaluable experience in 7v7 tourney

BRADENTON -- D'Saun Greenaway should be the type of prospect drawing eyes from scouts and recruiting services around the country. He's a 6-foot-5, 200-pound wide receiver with a 4.59-second 40-yard dash who commands double teams and still makes plays in traffic.

His only problem is he doesn't actually play in the country.

Greenaway is one of the top football prospects in Canada, starring at Jean Vanier Catholic in Scarborough, Ontario, and this weekend he had a chance to go against some top American players for the first time. This is the goal of IDFFL, which stands for International Development Fast Football League, a Toronto-based 7v7 club that competed at the IMG 7v7 National Championship Football tournament in Bradenton for the third straight year this weekend.

"We're just out here trying to get noticed," Greenaway said.

After struggling during their first two years at the national championship, IDFFL came into 2015 with its most talented roster yet, and put together its best run at the tournament. After going 1-3 in pool play - the only win was by forfeit - IDFFL won two games Sunday before losing to the Jacksonville Hornets in the losers' bracket.

It's progress for the program, which was founded in 2012 and in 2013, became the first Canadian team to join the National 7v7 Football Association.

The founder, president and CEO is Anthony Cannon, who played for the Lions and won a Grey Cup in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts. Maurice Mann, who served as the head coach during IDFFL's weekend at IMG Academy and is the vice president of business development, played three season in the NFL and was one Cannon's teammates on that Argonauts title team. Jordan Younger, the IDFFL's executive director, was also on the championship team, and now coaches Toronto's defensive backs.

"Every one of our coaches has professional experience," Mann said.

Mann joined up with IDFFL to give back to the Canadian football scene which gave him a chance. He never caught on with an NFL team for more than a year and in 2008 he found stability in the CFL. He played two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos and two with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before teaming up with Cannon on the Argonauts. The 7v7 game suits him well and he says it suits Canadian players, too.

Canadian high schools play with Canadian rules - wider and longer fields, 12 players to a side, three downs and no limits on pre-snap motion - and a heavy emphasis on passing. The pass-heavy offense carries over to 7v7. Everything else is new.

"Our process starts from scratch," Mann said.

He has to get his players used to thinner playing fields and actually lining up on offense -- in Canadian football every backfield player but the quarterback can be in motion at the snap. This still isn't American football, but the exposure and experience in the United States is invaluable.

Greenaway, who will graduate from Jean Vanier next week, has spoken with coaches from Central Florida and hopes the extra bit of attention he gathered with his in Bradenton will earn him a spot on the team in the fall. If not, he plans to attend a junior college.

Brandon Ihanza, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound wide receiver, will be a senior next year and transfer to Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga. - Cannon's alma mater - from Canada Prep Academy in Jordan, Ontario. He's received interest from Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Buffalo.

"More kids are starting to realize we can ball against these guys and we just need the opportunity to showcase our stuff," Ihanza said. "This is where you 'anyboody'"-- he says it with a noticeable Canadian accent --"who's 'anyboody' comes to play football."

His hometown of Brampton, Ontario, is better known for its position as a burgeoning basketball hotbed. He was a basketball player, too, and started playing football when his coach pushed him to get tougher. It makes sense to him that football could be the next sport to explode north of the border.

Mann has seen it in the growth of his program. When IDFFL started, Cannon and Co. struggled to fill a roster, capping out around seven or eight players. Now they're close to 50 and almost have enough players to realistically field two rosters.

"A lot of kids have seen what's going on in the states," Mann said. "It's important for them to experience this and see what it's about, and it gets better and better for them. They're all about it now."

While Greenaway attracted double teams during a game against Team Delaware on Saturday, Ihanza went wild, hauling in a pair of touchdowns. When he and Greenaway eventually retreated to the shelter of a tent for some Gatorade between games, a player from another team called for his attention.

"Hey, where are you guys from?" he asked.

"Canada," Ihanza said.

"No, seriously," the player responded.

Ihanza laughed. "I'm from Canada."