Seizing all football opportunities

By Jamie Harkins

January 3, 2018 10:16 AM

Lloydminster’s Keiler Cherry will be heading back to Wolfville, N.S., later this month to train with the Acadia Axemen coaching staff for the upcoming CFL draft.

Lloydminster’s Keiler Cherry has made a habit of seizing onto the opportunities given to him.
Cherry, 24, used this attitude to forge a four-year career with the Canadian Junior Football League’s Saskatoon Hilltops before taking up the challenge of becoming an all-star left tackle and offensive line leader with the U Sports Acadia University Axemen. His next task is to ace the Canadian Football League draft combine this spring on way to cracking a professional roster.
“I’ll be in the draft in mid-May and there were a few different scouts looking this year, but you don’t really get to hear a whole bunch about (which teams are interested),” said Cherry. “You just got to put in the work, be ready to go and know your game on that day.”
Cherry grew up battling in the trenches for the Lloydminster bantam Chargers and Holy Rosary High School Raiders football teams. A bit of advice from Raiders offensive line coach Ian Hundeby and a successful meet and subsequent tryout for Hilltops coach Tom Sargeant then led to a junior career in Saskatoon.
The six-foot-six and 300-pound farm boy spent his latter years with the Hilltops pursuing a post-football career as an agricultural mechanic when a few university teams began making inquiries into his future plans. He noted if there was an opportunity to continue playing then he might as well see a bit of Canada at the same time, so he filled out an online recruiting form, found a mutual interest from the Wolfville, N.S., based Axemen and headed east.
“Compared to the Prairies, it’s a lot different,” said Cherry. “The Bay of Fundy is right next to the field, so it’s definitely cool to be playing there. The atmosphere is really nice. The whole town really cares about athletics and the university, so you get a lot of fans out.”
Cherry started at left tackle in eight regular season and one playoff game during the 2015-16 season earning the Axemen rookie of the year award. He captured Atlantic University Sport (AUS) all-conference team honours as well as a spot in the U Sports all-star East-West Bowl game in his second year.
“He was just a great soldier and worked his tail off the whole time his first semester,” said Axemen head coach Jeff Cummins. “After his first season going into his second he assumed a much larger role and I asked him to. It was something that I could tell he wanted and he took ownership. From that point forward, he was our entire offensive line. He was, by far last year, a captain not only on the offensive line but on the team.”
The Axemen enjoyed their best campaign in five years this past fall going 6-2 over the regular season to secure first place in the AUS standings. The team then knocked off the Saint Mary’s Huskies 45-38 in overtime to win the AUS championship Lonely Bowl.
The Lonely Bowl was played three days after its scheduled start due to eligibility concerns about one Huskies player who had occupied a spot on the Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster less than a year before the U Sports season began. The player was eventually cleared to play, but the delay meant the winning team would only have four days rest before it had to take the field against the Ontario University Athletics champion Western University Mustangs in the Uteck Bowl.
The Mustangs beat the Axemen 81-3 in the game to earn a berth in the Vanier Cup.
“When you win your conference, it’s a successful year,” said Cherry. “The way it ended up wasn’t exactly ideal, but considering what we went through in the last few weeks there I still think it was a success.”
Cherry completed his final year of U Sports eligibility this past season. He earned a certificate program in business management at Acadia University during his two-and-a-half years at the school, but he plans on heading back to Nova Scotia later this month to train for the CFL combine.
“We do biometrics and strength and conditioning training four days out of the week and he’ll be training with us,” said Cummins. “There is going to be some individual workouts with him and some of the other guys who are going to the combines. I’ll personally do a little bit of work with him. But, right now it’s just him being ready to test well and show well in the opportunity that he has.”

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