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Tragic endings and new beginnings: The state of the 2021 Toronto Argonauts

As the lights went out on Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 2, 2019, nobody thought we’d have to wait another 572 days before the Toronto Argonauts would lace ’em up again.

Football may have not been in the cards in 2020, but on May 27, 2021, after a year of struggle, heartbreak and healing, the Argos are planning to return to the gridiron to take on those same Hamilton Tiger-Cats in preseason action.

To get you primed for the occasion, here is a complete refresher on what has transpired over the break, and where the Toronto Argonauts stand heading into the 2021 season.

The loss of a legend

We lost a Canadian icon when longtime Argonaut and CFL analyst Chris Schultz passed away on March 4, 2021.

Schultz spent nine seasons as a stalwart on the Argos’ offensive line, protecting future TSN partner Matt Dunigan en route to a Grey Cup win in 1991.

After retiring in 1994, Schultz transitioned seamlessly to the TV world. Alongside Dunigan, Milt Stegall, Jock Climie, Rod Smith, James Duthie and others, Schultz brought a balance of professionalism and humour to the desk.

But while his professional exploits impress, they pale in comparison to what he did for his community. As the leader of the Purolator Tackle Hunger campaign, Schultz filled food banks across the country with pallets upon pallets of food.

Affectionately known as “Schultzy,” Chris Schultz left a positive impact with every gigantic step he took in life. He will be deeply missed.

Front office overhaul

After three straight losses coming out of 2019’s second bye week, Argos brass decided a change needed to be made. Out at GM was Jim Popp, and in came Michael “Pinball” Clemons.

Immediately, Pinball’s infectious energy breathed new life into the team. After winning just two of their previous 14 games, the Argos went 2-2 in their final four contests.

Now, Pinball will look to build on that momentum in his first full season as GM since 2003.

Leading the charge on the field will be first-time CFL head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. Hired by Clemons a month after the 2019 season concluded, the former Winnipeg and Saskatchewan quarterback was plucked from the Calgary organization, where he was the Stamps’ quarterbacks coach.

Both Clemons and Dinwiddie will be guided by the steady hand of Bill Manning. Also the president of Toronto FC, Manning recently signed a five-year extension to stay with both the Argos and TFC through the 2025 season.

Explosive free agent signings

Clemons, Dinwiddie and Manning wasted no time diving head-first into both the trade market and free agency.

After conceding over 300 yards per game and allowing opposing team to complete over 72 per cent of their passes, issues on defence needed to be addressed.

Pinball’s signature signing is Charleston Hughes. A wrecking ball of a defensive lineman, Hughes has posted double-digit sacks in his last five seasons split between Calgary and Saskatchewan. Sitting at 130 sacks for his career, Hughes is within range of Grover Covington’s all-time CFL record of 157. Hopefully he can break it in double blue.

But Pinball didn’t stop there. He scooped up two more veteran pass rushers in Odell Willis and Cordarro Law. With Hughes drawing most of the attention up front, Willis and Law should be living in the backfield.

The Argos also supplemented their linebacking corps, adding Henoc Muamba and Cameron Judge. Muamba, an alum of Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University, is one year removed from a 100-tackle season. Judge broke out in 2019 with the Roughriders, posting 61 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions. A native of Montreal, he adds another welcomed Canadian contributor to the team.

Toronto also brought in Ronald Ollie. The native of Shubuta, Miss. was a fan favourite on Netflix’s Last Chance U. After a brief stint on the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad, he was picked up by Toronto.

Flipping now to the offensive side of the ball, Clemons began the search for the first franchise quarterback since the retirement of Ricky Ray. He thought he had found his man in former Winnipeg pivot Matt Nichols, but the team decided to go in a different direction, bringing Nick Arbuckle over from Ottawa. The longtime backup to Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary, Arbuckle spent 2020 on the REDBLACKS’ roster. He has experience working with Coach Dinwiddie and brings a dual threat skillset to the Argos’ offence.

The team added yet another former Stamp in WR Eric Rogers. The Glendora, Calif. native hauled in 85 catches in 2019 for 1080 yards and 10 touchdowns for Calgary.

The Argos got Arbuckle another certified weapon in Martavis Bryant. The former Pittsburgh Steeler is the proud owner of an iconic between-the-legs catch that eliminated the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2016 NFL playoffs. He played four seasons in the NFL before making the leap across the border.

It’s no secret that quarterbacks take a beating in the CFL, so to improve QB depth, Clemons added Martavis’ cousin, Kelly Bryant. Perhaps best known for leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff, Bryant transferred to Missouri for his senior year. In Columbia, he threw for a career-high 15 touchdown passes and earned a solid 138.5 QBR.

Along with bringing back LB Bear Woods, WR Llevi Noel and DB Alden Darby, the Argos can stake a solid claim to having won the CFL offseason.

CFL meets XFL

We can’t quite smell what The Rock is cooking yet, but a faint scent is starting to waft through the football world.

While rumours have been swirling, the sole fact is that the CFL and XFL are “poised to begin serious discussions” about entering into an agreement, according to CBC.

Understandably, the pandemic wreaked havoc on both leagues.

The CFL leaned on its 112-year history to weather the pandemic, but it was still impacted by the outright cancellation of the 2020 season. Though appeals to the Government of Canada for financial assistance were denied, initiatives like the Grey Cup Fan Base, where CFL fans could pay to have their name etched on a new base for the Grey Cup, helped the league make it through.

The new-look XFL had the misfortune of beginning its inaugural season just as the pandemic began to grip the globe. After completing five weeks of play, the league cancelled the remainder of its games and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 13, 2020.

In August, The Rock stepped in. A former CFL player himself, Dwayne Johnson purchased the XFL with intentions of jump-starting the nascent league once more. When, where and how he plans on doing this remain to be seen, but he’s the closest thing we have to a superhero in real life. Doubt him at your own peril.

With a concrete plan for a return to play, the CFL will beat the XFL back to the gridiron. The question now becomes, if the two sides do come to some agreement, what will be the relationship between the leagues? Would one be a pipeline to the other? Would teams have a shared talent pool that they could dip into at their leisure? Might a full-blown merger be in the cards?

At this point, it’s in the hands of two unlikely business partners: CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie and The People’s Champ.

TFFL and the Toronto Argonauts

A partnership born from a handshake at the 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton, the pairing of the Toronto Flag Football League and the Toronto Argonauts has helped put smiles on the faces of kids all over the GTA.

From Argos players coming out to TFFL games and signing autographs to running the kids through drills at camps, the team has had an immense impact on the quality of the kids’ experiences. TFFL players are proud to wear the Argos’ logo each and every time they step on the field. Some have even bought season tickets for the team, spurred on by the connection that they made with Argos players.

In 2020, the partnership was set to take a massive leap. Plans were in place for TFFL players to play a demonstration game on the field during halftime of an Argos game.

Understandably, the kids were gutted when the news came out that both their season and the Argos’ season were going to have some serious alterations. But we’re proud to say that both TFFL and the Toronto Argonauts are planning to return to the field, with every possible safety precaution in place. TFFL looks forward to growing the sport of football in the city alongside the Argos for many years to come!

We’re excited for both Toronto Flag Football and the Argos to get back on the field soon. It’s been a long time coming.

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3 drills to get you ready for Spring 2021

It’s tough to stay in game shape over the winter, and a global pandemic certainly hasn’t helped matters. But fret not, for help is here. These three drills will get you back into the swing of things for the fast-approaching Spring 2021 season!

1. Split squats

Helps with: quad strength, conditioning, injury avoidance

Aside from the brain, there is no more important part of a football player’s body than the quad muscle. Active and engaged on every single play, your quads are the pistons of your body, working to provide power and speed to send you flying past your opponents.

To perform at their best, our quads need care, and if you don’t believe me, believe Toronto Argonauts WR Natey Adjei. In this video, he breaks down how to properly do split squats at home, along with a host of other great exercises (extra weight optional).

The more you work on your quads off the field, the more performance you can expect from them on the field. This especially applies for running backs and receivers like Adjei. Your quads will determine how fast you can get in and out of cuts, and how elusive you can make yourself on a play-to-play basis. 

2. Over the shoulder tennis ball toss

Helps with: hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, reaction time, hand speed

I know most football drills don’t start with their participants sitting on the floor, but if you’re looking to ease your way back into game shape, this is the drill for you. Take a seat and have a partner (as long as they’re in your bubble) sit behind you. Give your partner three tennis balls, and have them lob those green spheres over your head. Keep your head still and your eyes forward. As they come into view, try and catch them while keeping your eyes “downfield.”

This might not sound like something that will help you out on the field, but getting practiced at being able to react and catch an object that flashes in front of you quickly will help with your ability to catch the football on both fast and slow-developing routes.

When running a hook or a slant, the pass will often be thrown before you can get your head around. This drill will improve your ability to catch a ball that is already halfway between you and your quarterback.

It will also help with over-the-shoulder passes. If you and your quarterback are truly in sync, the ball should be about three quarters through its journey as it descends from the heavens and into your arms. This doesn’t leave you a lot of time to react as the pass arrives, but if you put in some work with the tennis balls, reaction time can be improved.

3. The ten-yard game

Helps with: reaction time, catching ability, completing the catch, hand strength, defensive playmaking

Let’s face it – there’s only so much you can do without a football. This drill will re-familiarize yourself with catching the ball, without you needing the space that running through the route tree requires.

As long as you have ten yards of grass (or carpet) and a football (or Nerf football), you can play the ten-yard game. Have you and a partner stand ten yards apart, facing each other, and with your partner holding the ball. Think of your partner as an opposing quarterback, and you as a safety ready to make an interception. Have your partner throw the ball in a random (yet attainable) direction in front of him/her. It’s your job to either make the catch, or get a hand on it.

This drill might not be the best for your next laundry cycle, but getting a little muddy isn’t something the Toronto Flag Football League shies away from. It will also help you with completing the process of the catch all the way to the ground, as it will test your ability to hold onto the ball through contact with the turf.

Flag football drills tend to emphasize offence, but just like in tackle football, a great defensive stand can mean the difference between a win and a loss. You never know when it could be your turn to make a play. With this drill, you’ll be ready for when your number is called.

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TFFL season update: Thank you Fall 2020 participants and hello Spring 2021!

Well, that was wild.

The 2020 TFFL Fall Season was one for the record books. For those who came along for the ride, thank you. For those who either missed it or want to relive it, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Before even getting into the alterations that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, the 2020 Fall Season was already historic. Last fall saw our largest youth season to date, with over 580 kids ready to give it their all.

Of course, due to COVID-19, games looked a little different. Masks were mandatory at all times, and check-in tents with temperature checks and sanitization greeted every player before they took the field.

To further promote the health and safety of the athletes, special protocols were put in place. There were to be no handshakes, and no parents on the sidelines.

The league also invested in new gear to ensure that every single possible precaution was taken. Referees used electronic whistles to start and stop play, and players were provided with official TFFL masks and new flags that featured an easier interlocking mechanism. This meant less need for coaches and adults to help with re-attachment.

However, after two weeks, the province’s health guidelines changed. No games or scrimmages were allowed, and the TFFL season was over.

Or was it?

Well, for the adults, it was. But for the kids, the league forged on. Instead of games, the kids switched to drills, where they were instructed by expert coaches with national and international flag football experience.

This unexpected change was such a hit that many kids have asked us to continue with more drills and even enter tournament teams. These avenues will be further explored in the coming months.

As for the present, registration for the 2021 Spring Season is open! Our plan is to return to our traditional outdoor program featuring games for each team, with all participants required to wear masks.

However, given the ever-changing nature of the provincial and civic guidelines, the season may need to be altered as necessary. If the season needs to be cancelled altogether, full refunds will be provided. If the season gets started and needs to be cancelled, prorated credits for the number of weeks remaining will be issued for use in any future seasons, less $60 for equipment and fees.

Thank you for your patience, passion and commitment to the league. We hope to see you out there soon!

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Women in football: An explosion of opportunity

It’s no secret that 2020 sucked. From a global pandemic to an insurrection to murder hornets, it’s safe to say the year had its challenges.

Football was not exempt from the Worst Year Ever. The CFL cancelled its season, and the NFL endured a scheduling nightmare that saw teams shutter their facilities and move games due to positive COVID tests.

But through it all, one aspect of football saw an overdue explosion in growth. In 2020, the sport took major steps towards its goal of gender equality.

The face of the movement is Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller. On Nov. 28, Fuller became the first woman to participate in a college football “Power 5” game, when she kicked off the second half of the Commodores’ contest against Missouri.

Two weeks later, Fuller made some more history. In Vanderbilt’s rivalry game against Tennessee, she drilled two extra points, making her the first woman to score in “Power 5” history.

While Fuller grabbed the headlines in the college ranks, plenty of women were contributing at the NFL level too.

A Week 3 matchup between the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Browns saw a historic gathering of three trailblazing women. For the first time in league history, a game was played between two teams with female coaches, as well as being officiated by a woman. Sarah Thomas, the referee, became the first permanent NFL official in 2015 and will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl when she takes the field in Tampa on Feb. 7. Jennifer King, who was Washington’s full-year coaching intern and has recently been promoted to offensive assistant, became the first Black female coach in 2018 in a similar role with Carolina. Cleveland’s Callie Brownson became the first woman to coach an NFL position group in 2017.

King went on to make more history in Washington’s first-round playoff matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, she met Tampa coaches Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar for a pregame photo-op that featured the first female coaches to oppose each other in a playoff game.

The impact of the game’s growing initiative in gender diversity hasn’t been restricted to on-field personnel either.

Staying with the Washington Football Team’s culture shift, 2020 saw the arrival of Julie Donaldson to the team’s broadcast booth. She is the first woman to occupy a game in-game out broadcasting job in league history.

Much of this growth is owed to the hard work of the Women’s Careers in Football Forum. According to their website, 97 opportunities in football were earned by participants in the forum since 2017.

The CFL too is working to foster the inclusion of women in the game. They broke the officiating glass ceiling in 2019, when Emily Clarke and Georgina Paull refereed a game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Toronto Argonauts are also at the cutting edge of inclusion. This November, they held the Toronto Argonauts Women’s Football Showcase, where a panel of female football leaders and representatives from the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association (OWIFA) discussed the state of the game.

Still, there is no shortage of room for improvement. Over 300 coaches entered the NFL playoffs this season. Only six are women.

The fact remains that women are still grossly underrepresented in the sport. Despite over half of women polled in this 2020 study identifying as either “avid” or “casual” fans of the NFL, they don’t see themselves represented in any capacity on most gamedays.

The good news is that the mindset has changed. Football has recognized its gender diversity shortcomings and is working, however slowly, to fix them. Simply put, there has never been a better time for women to get involved with football.

The Toronto Flag Football League is committed to continuing this growth. We launched the first season of our girls league in the spring of 2016, and have since seen it grow from 17 participants to over 60. Girls are welcome to play in any of our leagues, whether that be the co-ed league, girls league, or both!

Registration for TFFL’s 2021 Spring season is open. All are welcome!

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TFFL on Breakfast Television!

The Toronto Flag Football League was featured on a recent episode of Breakfast Television!

Below, Andrew Clarfield-Henry explains how the Toronto Flag Football League was founded. He also goes in-depth on the magic of the flag belt, which provides the safety of touch while not sacrificing the jukes and spin moves that make football fun.

In this clip, TFFL’s Ryan Borenstein explains what programs the league offers, while BT’s Shem Parkinson tries his hand at a couple drills.

Registration for the Spring 2021 season is open. Sign up here.

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Spring 2021 - Register Today!

Hello TFFL Family,

Toronto Flag Football is excited to be planning for the Spring 2021 season! In accordance with City of Toronto and Province of Ontario Public Health Guidelines we made adjustments throughout the Fall Season and everyone had a great time! We had awesome coaches and staff leading drills and everyone greatly improved their skills. We’re hoping that in Spring 2021 we will be back to playing games in additional to learning skills!

We are looking forward to expanding to additional regions in the Greater Toronto Area for Spring 2021. We are also planning some awesome events and activities with our amazing partner, the Toronto Argos!

Enjoy the outdoors this winter, practice your football skills and we look forward to seeing you on the field!

Check out our recent spot on Breakfast Television here and here.

COVID-19 Policies

We will utilize all the knowledge we gained during the Fall season for our Spring planning. We will also stay on top of the guidance from Toronto Public health as we get closer to the season.

Refund/Credit Policy

In the unfortunate event that we are required to cancel the season due to permit-related regulations, City of Toronto guidelines, or Provincial Guidelines:

  • Before the season: Credit of full value for any future seasons.
  • Once the season has started: Prorated credit for the number of weeks remaining less $60 (equipment and processing fee) to be used for any future season.
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Football is Back!

Hello TFFL Family,

Toronto Flag Football is excited to be running a Fall season, giving our players the much needed opportunity to practice safe social activities and exercise on the football field. In order to best keep our players safe, we will be operating this season with unique rules in accordance with City of Toronto and Province of Ontario Public Health Guidelines.

COVID-19 Policies

The October 10, Toronto Modified Stage 2 regulations, will not allow us to continue the league with our normal game schedule. We will be transitioning to practice/skill based sessions for October 18, October 25, November 1. All practices will be run by football experts and the kids will be grouped only with their teams.

Social distancing of 2 metres is not possible while playing flag football. Because of this, players, staff, and coaches will be required to wear masks at all times during TFFL events.

Below are details of all our guidelines. We are open to your feedback and suggestions and updates to our protocols will be made.

Requirements for All Players

  • Parents or other spectators will not be permitted on the field. At North York Civic Soccer fields, there is room to spread out away from the fields we play on.
  • Masks that cover nose, mouth, and chin will be required for all people (players, staff, referees, coaches) at the TFFL field at all times.
  • All teams will be given a bottle of sanitizer to use throughout their practices.
  • Handshakes, high-fives, or other physical contact unrelated to football (ex. flag-pulling) will not be permitted.
  • Physical distancing will be encouraged and enforced whenever possible.

All Participants (or Guardians) must review the questions in the weekly email (and found below) and confirm their attendance. If the participant or anyone in their household answers YES to any of these questions at any point leading up to game time, they must not attend TFFL Events that week:

  1. Do you have any of the following symptoms or feelings: sore throat, fever, new cough or difficulty breathing, weakness, muscle aches or gastrointestinal symptoms of diarrhea or abdominal pain?
  2. Have you traveled out of country in the last 14 days or been in close contact with someone that has?
  3. Have you had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19?

Youth League

  • In advance of every session, a parent for each player must respond to our attendance email and pass the screening questions and COVID-19 Attestation document.
  • Masks may be removed to get water but must be immediately put back on.

Refund/Credit Policy

In the unfortunate event that we are required to cancel the season due to permit-related regulations, City of Toronto guidelines, or Provincial Guidelines:

  • Before the season: Credit of full value for any future seasons.
  • Once the season has started: Prorated credit for the number of weeks remaining less $50 (equipment and processing fee) to be used for any future season.

If you need to withdraw from the league for any reason once the season has started: Prorated credit for the number of weeks remaining less $50 (equipment and processing fee) to be used for any future season.

If you would like to withdraw from the remainder of the season, please complete this form. Credits will be applied in November, once the season is complete.

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Spring Season Update

Dear Toronto Flag Football Family,

We hope this message finds you safe and well! 

Unfortunately, we are officially cancelling the Spring season. It breaks our hearts to know that Spring will pass without us all getting together to play football. But in the interest of everyone’s health and safety, we think it is the right thing to do.

We will be transferring your Spring season payment to a credit on your account. Once we know more about when our programs can continue, we will send out an additional $25 voucher to everyone who has paid for Spring 2020.
Please note: we are working on website updates to make both the credit and voucher more visible to you when you log in.

We understand the current economic situation has created a financial burden for many people. If you need to make alternate arrangements with us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Thank you for being a part of the TFFL, and for your patience as we waited as long as we felt possible to see how the health situation evolved. Nothing would make us happier than seeing kids on the field playing football together again. Hopefully this will be a reality at some point in the Summer or for our popular Fall season, scheduled to begin in September.

In the meantime, it seems that indoor or backyard family football is the safest way to play for now! So we welcome everyone to check out the Argos “Camp at Home” video content series. These awesome videos offer fun and interactive ways for you and your kids to learn and perform football drills in or around your home. If you don’t have a football – please let us know. We will drop one off!

Finally, we would like to thank our sponsors, volunteers, and suppliers who helped us prepare for the Spring 2020 season. It’s a pleasure to work with you and we look forward to the opportunity to do it again for next season.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive! We hope to see you this summer and we’ll be in touch as soon as we know when it’s safe to play again.

Thank you and best regards,
Andrew, Jacob and Ryan

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Introducing the Winter Training Camp: A New Skills Clinic for TFFL Players.

One of our top pieces of feedback over the years has been to run a program during the Winter. For the first time ever, we are excited to run a winter program.

We are proud to announce that on Tuesday nights at 6–7 PM from January to March, we will be organizing a Winter Training Camp for players of any gender born in 2007-2010. The program will take place at Downsview Park’s Hangar Dome.

The goal of this clinic is to teach players skills in a fun and positive atmosphere. Skill improvement is the goal, but an awesome time will be the outcome.

Responsible for teaching the skills clinic will be certified football coaches who have significant experience teaching both flag and tackle football skills.

Want to catch jump balls like Julio Jones? Take off down the sideline like Derrick Henry? or throw touchdowns on a dime like Lamar Jackson? Well we can’t promise that… but we can promise that your football skills will improve with us at Winter Training Camp!

For more information, visit our website, give us a call at 416-366-8335, or send us an email!

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Football at School: What could be better?

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to support football players in the classroom and through extracurricular activities.

This year, we had the exciting opportunity to teach the wonderful game of flag football to students during gym class at The Sterling Hall School in Toronto. Students in grades four to eight buckled up their flags and took part in exciting flag football skills and drills. At the end of class, everyone had the chance to show off their skills in games against one another.

To remember their awesome afternoon, all students walked out of gym class with a Toronto Argonauts “Pull Together” rally towel.

We also had the opportunity to help out at the Toronto District School Board’s Flag Football tournament, where we gave out awesome t-shirts to participants at that event.

We are always excited and proud to see flag football players in schools across the city. Flag football builds teamwork, organization, time management, and other skills… but most importantly, it builds friendships that last a lifetime.

We have some more school visits in the works for this season, including our annual day assisting at the Toronto Jewish Day School Flag Football Tournament.

If you are interested in having the TFFL visit your school, email us at info@torontoflagfootball.com.