One of the most interesting stories of the last few decades in the CFL is how successful the return of the Montreal Alouettes has been. The first Alouettes team folded in 1981, and the replacement Montreal Concordes only lasted until 1986 (they played that last year under the Alouettes name). From that time, there was no CFL football in Montreal until the current Alouettes moved there from Baltimore in 1996 thanks to the demise of CFL USA and the NFL's expansion to Baltimore. Thus, in terms of years of continuous operation, the current Alouettes are the league's youngest team by far. However, they've also managed to become one of its most popular.
The Alouettes' popularity is thanks to several factors. Their incredible on-field dominance throughout the first decade of the 2000s definitely helped, while their decision to move from the crumbling Olympic Stadium to Molson Stadium on McGill University's campus in 1998 (prompted by a U2 concert that took over the Big O and pushed them out for a 1997 playoff game, a move that worked out so well they stuck with it the following year) was crucial, as were their successful efforts to engage francophone fans. Their often CFL-leading efforts in various social media realms played an important part as well. One important one that isn't always mentioned is their efforts to build the grassroots football community in Quebec, though, and the team is smartly continuing to do that. The latest evidence on that front comes from something they unveiled before Thursday's game: a renewed partnership with the Quebec Foundation for Athletic Excellence, where they'll invest $120,000 over the next three years, and the two organizations' joint awarding of $34,000 in bursaries to Quebec student athletes. From MontrealAlouettes.com:
Now in its ninth year, the Alouettes Bursary Program supports student-athletes who excel in a recognized high school, CEGEP or university-level football program and who stand out on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
Alouettes C.O.O. Mark Weightman presented the student-athletes with their grants during a ceremony prior to the team’s game versus the BC Lions. He declared: “Since the team’s return in 1996, the Alouettes have made it a priority to support the next generation of Quebec football stars. Year after year, football is gaining popularity and consequently the number of student-athletes who play football continues to grow. We are proud to help continue to develop minor football with the goal of keeping Quebec’s best young athletes in the province to both study and pursue their football aspirations.”
Some of those bursaries are going to quite interesting people. Here's McGill Athletics' Earl Zukerman on some of the students involved:
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Jonathan Collin, two football players from McGill University, are among 25 recipients that have won a combined total of $34,000 in bursaries announced by the Montreal Alouettes, Thursday.
Duvernay-Tardif, a native of St. Hilaire, Que., was the only player to receive two awards – for a combined total of $3,000 – one for academic excellence and the other for athletic prowess. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle is a fourth-year medical student at McGill. He is considered by many pro scouts as a preseason favourite to be selected in both the CFL and NFL draft next spring,
Collin, from Greenfield Park, Que., is a 6-foot-4, 218-pound quarterback. The 24-year-old social sciences senior has made a miraculous recovery from a career-threatening leg injury suffered in his sophomore campaign and will start at the helm of the Redmen this fall.
The McGill duo is among seven honorees at the university level, along with Byron Perez-Archambault of the Montreal Carabins, Concordia's Travis Brent, Sherbrooke's Kevin Croft, Laval's Pascal Lochard and Alexander Fox from Bishop's.
This speaks to a big part of what's helped to drive the Alouettes' success. There's a massive amount of interest in football at all levels in Quebec, and the team has both contributed to and benefited from that. Quebec minor football has some of the strongest programs in the country, and Quebec schools have excelled in CIS competition (Laval in particular, as the Rouge et Or have won seven Vanier Cups since their program's debut in 1996). Quebec athletes are becoming crucial contributors to Canadian football both inside and outside the province, too, starring for both local and outside teams at the university and CFL levels. The Alouettes are smartly recognizing that and staying involved with grassroots and university programs in the province, and bursaries like this are an excellent move on that front. The more top football players Quebec produces, the more interested the populace will be in football. That bodes well for the CFL in general and the Alouettes in particular.