When the bus carrying staff and supplies arrived at the Quinte Mohawk School, the first person off the charter was Deionte Knight. As he hit the bottom step the defensive lineman paused, looked both ways and smiled. It was like he was returning home.
It was not the second-year Argo’s first trip to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, located just east of Belleville. He had travelled there 51 weeks earlier to take part in the team’s first youth flag football clinic in that community, an event that he looks back on with a great deal of fondness.
He had just as much fun this time around.
“That was a blast,” Knight told Argonauts.ca at the conclusion of the four-hour camp. “Honestly, the emphasis of my career is to give back to the community and to engage with the children. I think it’s very important as an Indigenous man to engage with Indigenous communities across Canada.”
Knight is of Algonquin decent on his mother’s side.
“It’s that these kids can see someone that looks like them and they can aspire to chase their dreams as well,” said Knight. “I think that as a little boy it was really, really important for me to recognize and identify people – role models specifically – that had a similar background as me, looked similar to me. It’s very important as a little kid to see someone that looks like you that’s chasing their dreams, it gives them the ability and the confidence to think ‘I can do that too, this guy looks exactly like me and he’s chasing his dreams, why can’t I do that as well?’”
The kids from Tyendinaga have another role mode, one that is even easier to identify with. Ben Maracle is the starting quarterback for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. He grew up in Tyendinaga, showing the local athletes there can be a football future for someone from there.
Maracle is on a football journey of his own. From St. Theresa High School in Belleville, through the Kingston Grenadiers OVFL team, to Football North in suburban Ottawa and the Canadian U-18 team, Maracle has his eyes set on a pro football career. He went to the CFL Combine in Edmonton as an underclassman and then attended the Ottawa Redblacks training camp as a part of the CFL’s quarterback internship program.
His 2022 season in garnet and gray was a good one; leading the Gee-Gees to a win over Carleton in the annual Panda Game, a playoff berth, then being named an Academic All-Canadian for the second time.
Maracle’s collaboration with the Argos brought about the first camp a year ago and he now wants to make this an even bigger and better project.
“I want to expand it for sure,” he told Argonauts.ca. “The dream situation for me is having an opportunity just like this in every community, so each kid across Canada gets the opportunity to play football.”
Knight has the same dream for the program.
“Hopefully other CFL teams will follow suit and send representatives to other communities and start doing things that we did here today; engage with the kids, play with them, expose them to the game, talk to and engage with the parents. It’s my favourtie part of the job for sure.”
This year’s camp drew just under 100 athletes; boys and girls from age six into their teens. They ran the drills separated into four groups that rotated between as many stations; coached by Knight, Maracle, and four of the QB’s Gee-Gee teammates; defensive back Kevin “T.K.” Victome, linebacker Daniel Briere, running back Amlicar Polk, and receiver Willy-Pierre Dimbongi.
If the latter two names are familiar, it may be because both of them played for the Ottawa Redblacks against the Argos two nights earlier.
Maracle’s teammates were as excited to coach in the clinic as he and Knight were. They exhibited non-stop enthusiasm and the coaching quintet was able to keep the kids engaged for the full four hours; though everyone was fueled in mid-camp by a traditional meal of corn soup, fried bread, strawberry drink, and strawberry shortcake.
The Tyendinaga community again proved to be perfect host. Maracle wants the event to happen again next year but hopes it’s on a bigger stage with an increased emphasis on competition.
“(I’d like) to make it more of a weekend thing,” he said. “Make it more about game situations, where they’re able to compete more in an actual game more than just doing skills. As football gets bigger in the community, maybe they’re able to grow it into a league.”
If and when that happens there is zero doubt Maracle will have a lot to do with it, with Knight right there beside him.