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Winnipeg-born CFL players Andrew Harris and DJ Lalama start Pro Prep Flag Football League

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris (33) celebrates his run deep in the Calgary Stampeders' zone during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, August 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris (33) celebrates his run deep in the Calgary Stampeders' zone during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, August 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much halted football in Canada in its cleats. But a couple of CFL players have decided to try a “reverse” on the dreaded virus by starting a league in their hometown of Winnipeg.

Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris and Montreal Alouettes linebacker DJ Lalama have launched the Pro Prep Flag Football League, which is scheduled to begin play on Sept. 30.

Harris and Lalama appeared on the 680 CJOB Sports Show Tuesday to provide some details on the league, which will feature a 10-game schedule on Wednesday and Friday nights at Dakota Collegiate’s Murray Field.

Read more: After decades without, Dakota Collegiate finally gets its football field

“I think as young athletes, as we both were, and talking to some of the coaches, being in the community and just realizing that there’s such a big void with football and sport overall, we just saw an opportunity for the youngsters to get out there and continue to work their craft and get better as an athlete,” said Harris.

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“We also saw it as an opportunity for guys who are post-secondary to continue to work their craft as well. This is something we’re definitely excited about. ”

There will be a cost of $165 for each player to cover officiating and insurance costs, and there will be other benefits as well because Harris and Lalama have partnered with massage therapists and physiotherapists. And each Pro Prep athlete will also receive one free month of Lalama’s Team DJ47 personal training and strength conditioning program.

“We’re passionate about football, but we’re also passionate about Winnipeg and the grassroots level in the city,” said the former U of M Bison standout.

“The sport is doing well and obviously no one could have predicted COVID to happen. If we can use our platform to help push football forward in this province when there are a lot of unknowns, and this gives us an opportunity to stay close to the game, put some smiles on some faces and let football continue to do what it is and allow kids to have fun.”

Read more: ‘A bit of a whirlwind’ — Former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Streveler makes successful NFL debut

The league will be split into two tiers, one for high school players and the other for college and junior athletes, as well as Grade 12 players who have a post-grad commitment or believe they have the skill set to compete at a higher level.

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Rosters will be set at 15 players, there will be the usual 7-on-7 flag football format, but with a few “tweaks” to the rules, according to Harris.

“A lot of flag leagues, there’s basically one rusher and they rush right away,” said the reigning Grey Cup MVP, who was also named the Outstanding Canadian in the CFL championship game following last November’s 33-12 win over Hamilton at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

“So with this you can have blitz looks, man looks. And it will allow the players to be filmed. I couldn’t imagine being a Grade 12 student right now and trying to go to university or junior and not have any film.”

Harris also sees the league as an opportunity for high school athletes.

“If I was a high school coach, I would definitely try to get my Grade 10s, Grade 11s to play together as a team. We’re not sure what to expect, but we do know there are teams that are going to want to put in their offences and defences, run their systems and still work on improving the camaraderie and timing.”

Read more: Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea caught off guard by 2020 CFL season being cancelled

Harris also anticipates the possibility of Grade 12 players pooling their talents to form all-star teams in the “pro” tier.

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Lalama says the initial response has been very positive so he’s pumped by the vision he has to make it all about the players.

“When we talk about 360-degree athlete development, any time you can get out there and run through the routes and understand and read defences or offences, and be able to play football, I think that’s a positive for the athlete in itself.

“I think if we can do this in a safe manner and allow kids to work on the technical side of things. When they actually put the pads on, whenever that may be, they’ll be able to put their best foot forward.”

The league has its COVID-19 protocols listed on its website.

Lalama says no player will be turned away, and there are multiple options in place in the event of an overwhelming response. The league is being sanctioned by Football Manitoba so parents or athletes do not have to concern themselves with extra insurance costs as that is covered in the registration fee.

The deadline to register is Sunday, Sept. 27 and the 10-game season begins on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The top four teams in each tier will advance to the playoffs, with the championship finals set for Friday, Nov. 13.

For more information or to register, visit djlalama.com/proprep.

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Click to play video '‘We did it baby’: Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris celebrates at parade' ‘We did it baby’: Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris celebrates at parade
‘We did it baby’: Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris celebrates at parade