Participants hopeful new CFL program will help create next Martin St. Louis or John Lynch

Photos courtesy: NHL.com, 49ers.com. Photo edit: 3DownNation.

A half-dozen players are hopeful that a new mentorship program created by the CFL and CFLPA will help them become the next Martin St. Louis or John Lynch.

The participants are retired fullback Jean-Philippe Bolduc, Edmonton Elks’ defensive tackle Stefan Charles, Saskatchewan Roughriders’ kicker Brett Lauther, free agent punter Hugh O’Neill, retired offensive lineman Brian Simmons, and free agent receiver Kenny Stafford.

These individuals were selected for the program after filling out an application and conducting a round of interviews. They will each spend a week in Toronto where they will get a behind-the-scenes look at business and management before attending the Ontario regional combine on March 10. They will then be paired with an individual mentor.

“I think the league and the P.A. is a little bit ahead of any pro sports league around the world by doing this partnership. I’ve never heard of any big league having some current and former players in the building in the management offices, so that’ll be a really fun week,” said Bolduc via videoconference.

“If you look at teams in the NHL or the NFL, more and more former players have management roles. You look at the Montreal Canadiens and how they have (special advisor) Vinny Lecavalier and (head coach) Martin St. Louis. Is it by luck or because they’re there that they just won three games in a row?”

“Look at the (San Francisco) 49ers with John Lynch,” said Charles, who played in the NFL for seven seasons before returning to his home country in 2019. “He’s a GM and a Hall of Fame safety. I guess it just brings a different aspect or a different experience to the whole thing. Like anything you do, experience trumps everything.”

Coaching staffs in the CFL have always been littered by retired players but management is a different story. It’s only in the last decade or so that people like Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, John Hufnagel, Kyle Walters, Jeremy O’Day, Danny MaManus, Geroy Simon, and Eric Deslaurier have had the opportunity to take on substantial roles in personnel departments.

“It’s not something that should be given to players, but if former players are interested in being in a management position eventually … we have to start at the bottom and slowly build our way up to a higher position,” said Bolduc.

The former fullback currently works as a lumber trader for Boscus Canada Inc. after retiring from the Ottawa Redblacks last year. He isn’t sure if he wants to pursue a post-playing career in football but believes participating in this new program will help him make the best decision for himself moving forward.

“I have a good career right now. I like what I do, but I’m curious to see if there’s any opportunities for me to still be involved (in football) or even if I like it,” he said. “By spending a week in Toronto with everybody … I’ll be able to have a glimpse at what a job in football is without necessarily committing myself for a whole career.”

Charles will be 34 by the time training camps get underway, so he’s wise to be planning for his post-playing career. He earned over $3 million USD playing in the NFL but still hopes to maximize his career opportunities in football after his playing days are over.

“Football as a career, or even amateurs, is pretty short because you never know when your last snap is or what injuries could do,” he said. “I think that having this program is definitely something proactive that players could take an opportunity to try to extend whatever their situation may be.”

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.