2020 was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for one of Waterloo Region’s homegrown CFL players. That dream is on hold for Cambridge native Chris Ackie.
The five-year CFL veteran signed with the Toronto Argonauts earlier this year and was looking forward to playing with his “home team” for the first time in his career. CFL training camps were slated to begin on May 17, but the league postponed camps and the regular season was pushed back to July.
Ackie spent the bulk of the previous five seasons playing for the Montreal Alouettes before signing on the dotted line with the Argos. The Laurier Golden Hawk Hall of Famer was thrilled about the opportunity to have his own personal cheering section at BMO Field.
“Pinball Clemons is the general manager, and I loved what we was building there,” Ackie said. “I bought into it and I was like: ‘Let me come back home for at least a year and check things out’. It will be fun to play close to home. I already have family and friends buying season tickets. That all played a part in me coming to Toronto.”
Although his season is on hold, the veteran linebacker said his pre-season routine remains mostly unchanged. He’s been keeping his mind busy by joining online business courses, and staying active by working out at home, running outdoors, or taking part in online fitness classes.
“It’s not too much of an adjustment for me,” Ackie said. “Instead of doing homework, I’m usually at the gym. I do hot yoga, but my studio’s closed down. They do offer webinars, so I can do yoga at home. I can do my Pilates at home. My day has always been surrounded by fitness.”
Teamwork is a pillar of football culture, but with teammates sequestered away from each other, it’s a challenge to develop a sense of comradery. Typically, these players would spend time in-person getting familiar with their new teammates. Instead, they’re working on their own separate game plan routines.
“Some guys that I play football with or play football against are all at the gym, so we’re always pushing each other and joking around,” Ackie said. “It’s kind of different doing it on your own. It’s a little odd. But if you have a goal in mind, it’s all manageable.”
In the city of Toronto, Mayor John Tory cancelled all major events and city permits until June 30, but he iterated this ban does not include sporting events. Like most players, Ackie prefers to play in front of a raucous crowd. He understands that if the 2020 season gets off the ground, the environment wouldn’t be the same without supporters in the stands.
“Without the fans there, it’s just practice,” Ackie said. “You need the fans there. You hear them cheering. You hear them booing you. It gets you excited. We play for the fans. Without the fans, there really isn’t a football league.”
Prior to CFL training camps being shut down, Ackie had just wrapped up his fourth annual youth football session with Impulse Football Camp. The coaches finished their annual charity camp in Kitchener and Ackie and company raised $2,000 towards the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
Each year, the football camps have grown by leaps and bounds, where the biggest challenge facing Impulse Football Camp is they now need a bigger facility and more field time. Ackie estimates nearly 70 kids took part in the camps this year.
Over the years, he’s seen some familiar faces at the camp as returning attendees have grown and improved with each session. Ackie gives all the credit to the passionate young football players who work year-round to become the next CFL superstar.
“It’s nice to know that the coaching staff has played a part in their life,” Ackie said. “They do the majority of the work, we’re just here to give them the tools to get better. It’s nice to know that what we’ve taught them works.”
With most families stuck at home, it’s easy to experience “cabin fever” as students enter their fifth consecutive week outside the classroom. The former Golden Hawks linebacker said it’s important for prospective players to keep their minds and bodies sharp during this isolation period.“Especially for young athletes, stay active,” Ackie said. “Do workouts in your house that are going to help you for when you’re going to get back on the field. You’ve got to take this time to outwork your competition. That means studying game film or just watching your sport, trying to get better and learn the game more.”