By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Ask Scott Valberg what it was like to play football for Canada at the world championship, and he’ll tell you it was terrific—except for one thing.
After reaching the gold-medal game, he said, “we got pounded.”
“I don’t know what the score was,” the former Bayridge Secondary School and Queen’s Golden Gaels star said. “It was a lot to a little.
“It was one of those (situations) where it would be nice just to try again.”
So, when the call went out to audition for this year’s senior national team, Valberg didn’t hesitate, and evidently he hasn’t lost much since he helped the Gaels to the 2009 Vanier Cup championship. He’ll be on the Canadian team at this year’s world championship, to be held this July at Akron, Ohio.
“I play touch football in the summer, but it’s not the quite the same competitiveness as playing tackle football, and playing with the kind of good athletes Team Canada would have,” Valberg said. “I’m looking forward to that aspect of it, to give it one last shot at playing at a highly competitive level.”
The International Federation of American Football has 78 members, worldwide, and it has held a world championship every four years since the inaugural event in 1999. Japan won the first two tournaments, the U.S. the last two.
This year’s tournament was supposed to be played in Sweden, but late last year the hosts withdrew and the U.S. filled in. As a result, instead of 12 teams, there will be only eight—as there were in 2011—in Canton in July, since four European sides were unable to raise the extra money required to travel overseas.
Canada’s only medal came in 2011, when the Canadians were undefeated through the preliminary round at the tournament in Graz and Vienna, Austria. Valberg was the second-leading receiver on that team—to Laurier grad Shamawd Chambers, now in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. Chambers had 20 catches for 248 yards in the four games; Valberg finished the tournament with 17 catches for 245 yards, and a touchdown in a 36-14 win over Austria, during which he had Canada’s tournament-best 108-yard game.
It’s an experience that Valberg describes as “unbelievable.”
“The coolest part for me was we got to play with the who’s who of the CIS at the time,” he said. David Stevens, Michael Faulds, Anthony Woodson, Maxime Berube and former Queen’s teammate Thaine Carter were among those players. “Being able to play with all those guys was pretty cool.”
The Canadians played four regulation games in nine days—“it was foolish, but it was fun,” Valberg said—culminating in the aforementioned 50-7 defeat at the hands of the Americans, in a game where the U.S. scored 30 points in the second quarter and didn’t score any in the fourth.
“Japan was one of our toughest games before we played the U.S.,” said Valberg, referring to a preliminary game where the Canadians needed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to prevail 31-27. “Who knew? It was a pretty eye-opening experience.”
In a sport where game days are usually followed by a down day with no physical activity, and not another game for at least five days, playing every other day took some getting used to, Valberg recalled. “It was hard. It was nothing I’d ever experienced before.
“The recovery was unbelievable. I don’t know how the (offensive) linemen did it, but we managed, and did pretty well, so I can’t complain. Hopefully, I can bring to the table having the experience of knowing what it was like, and helping the younger guys get mentally prepared, giving them an idea of what it’s going to be like.”
Valberg, a two-time all-Canadian who graduated as the sixth-leading receiver, lifetime, in the CIS with 2,917 yards—and who remains No. 8, all-time, in Canadian intercollegiate history—now teaches a Grade 8 class at Calvin Park Public School, his father’s elementary alma mater. Despite the disappointing outcome of the final game of the last world championship, personally, he said, “I think I did pretty well.”
“At that time I’d coached for a year at Queen’s, so I’d had a year off (from playing), and it was after I didn’t make it (in a tryout with the Tiger-Cats) in Hamilton. Again, it was one of those, didn’t make it in Hamilton so there was kind of unfinished business.
“I played quite a bit, caught a whole bunch of balls and got to play with Shamawd Chambers. It was nice to play with him, to see the talent that was coming up, and seeing how good he was.”
Unlike the last Team Canada experience, for which all expenses were paid by Football Canada, this time each player has to come up with $2,500 to subsidize his participation. Still, that was not about to deter Valberg from playing one more time.
“Being able to play with that high level of players was pretty awesome to do,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, playing with those guys, just being around them. It’s intriguing to do it again.”