2023 CFL Draft profiles: Saint Mary’s LB Markcus Jean-Loescher striving to be rare second-generation Indigenous CFL player

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

For a league which prides itself on its history, the pages of the CFL record book are riddled with blind spots and omissions.

In the current cultural moment, none is more glaring than the history of Indigenous athletes in the league. They have been present since its inception but the list of those whose names were recorded is painfully short. Shorter still is the list of those who were celebrated for that part of their identity, leaving many aspiring Indigenous football players without idols to look up to.

Growing up in Toronto, Markcus Jean-Loescher understood that scarcity. There were few people with his background on the football fields and in the hockey arenas he played in. Fortunately for him, he had an Indigenous sporting role model much closer to home: his father, Nautyn McKay-Loescher.

“Growing up with my dad was kind of like a coach’s kid feeling,” he said in a recent interview with 3DownNation. “I had a deep love for the game from a young age and he showed me the ropes, made sure I always understood what I was doing on the field. A big part of my football success is definitely from him instilling that hard work ethic in me.”

Markcus was born when his father was completing Grade 13 at Central Technical School and got a chance to witness the entirety of his football career. He excelled first as a defensive end at the University of Alabama, racking up 12.5 career sacks and earning the nickname “Tonto from Toronto” from Crimson Tide broadcaster Kenny Stabler — an all-time leader on the list of sporting monikers that aged poorly.

McKay-Loescher was then selected 12th overall by the B.C. Lions in the 2004 CFL Draft, playing six seasons with the Leos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He saw action in 88 games, recording 49 total tackles and 25 career sacks.

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

For his son, recollections of Tuscaloosa are limited to vague memories of a rabid stadium. Time spent around the CFL left a more lasting impression.

“As a little kid, you don’t realize how lucky you are. After every game at home, he would always come get me and take me to the locker room to see how stuff works,” Jean-Loescher shared. “Those experiences, they give you aspirations when you’re older. You see how life is as a professional athlete and you really want to be a part of it.”

He is now a little more than a week away from doing just that. After an unheralded three-year career at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, the six-foot, 219-pound linebacker has  developed into a legitimate 2023 CFL Draft prospect, working his way up from the league’s Invitational Combine to the National Combine in Edmonton last month.

If he hears his name called on May 2, he will join his father on the short list of openly Indigenous athletes in league history and play a role in filling the representational void.

“I take a lot of pride in being Indigenous. I definitely let it be known, I don’t hide it,” Jean-Loescher said. “It’s important for younger Indigenous athletes that are looking for a role model in their life and it’s not that I have to be that role model but I think I can set a good example for other kids coming up. Give these kids hope that they can play professional ball too.”

Photo courtesy: Saint Mary’s Athletics

Jean-Loescher is Oji-Cree, with his family hailing from the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation near Big Trout Lake in northern Ontario. Though he has lived his whole life in the big city, Indigenous culture remains a meaningful part of his identity and day-to-day life, largely thanks to his paternal grandfather.

Alex McKay was an associate professor at the University of Toronto and a founding member of the school’s Indigenous Studies department. Among his other academic work, he was renowned as a national expert on the Anishinaabemowin language. He instilled in his grandson a deep respect for his heritage, though the importance of linguistic knowledge was initially lost on the young athlete.

“I never learned it as much, I only know a bit.  I didn’t take as much of an interest because I was always playing sports and I think he saw that and he kind of just let me do my own thing,” Jean-Loescher admitted.

“If I decided to take an interest, he was always there to be like, ‘This is how you say this. This is what you do in this tradition.’ Just giving me little hints and knowledge throughout my life.”

Now that he’s older, the 23-year-old treasures those brief lessons. His grandfather passed away in 2019 at the age of 74 and that absence has only caused him to delve deeper into his culture and language.

“Me and my cousins, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve tried to learn our heritage more because it’s very important to keep the Indigenous culture alive,” he explained. “It’s one of the fastest-growing demographics, so the more I can pass on to the younger generations in my family, the better.”

Jean-Loescher’s impact can only be made greater with the platform of professional football but it remains to be seen exactly how great of an opportunity he’ll receive. He was a three-year starter with the Huskies but never truly dominated in the notoriously weak AUS, finishing his career with just 68 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks in 18 career games.

Still, he has shown himself to be an excellent special teamer at the collegiate level and tested with exceptional bend and lateral quickness during the Combine circuit, making him a safe bet to be selected in the late rounds of the 2023 draft.

“Ultimately, I think my tape shows that I’m a good player and that I’m pretty versatile on the field,” he said. “It’s hard to battle that stigma coming out of the AUS but if you just show who you are, you’re good.”

If he can crack a roster like his father once did, he’ll join the likes of Jed Roberts as a rare second-generation Indigenous CFL player. If he can add the same level of special teams value as Roberts did, he’ll be well worth the selection.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.