HAINES CITY – Jamaan Webb knows that the weather in Canada is a whole lot different from Central Florida, a region where snow, ice storms and blizzards are non-entities.
But when asked about the possibility that he could start a new career in frigid Canada, he shrugged.
“I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “I love football a lot.”
So much so, that Webb drove down from Jacksonville to Haines City’s Cook Field so he could take part in the testing and recruitment going on there for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
”Football will drive my passion, not the weather,” Webb said.
Andrew Williams, public relations manager for the Mid-Florida Football Conference in Winter Haven, which organized the talent scouting event for the Toronto Argonauts, said he understands why someone like Webb would drive two hours to take part in tryouts for a league that won’t be playing football in the Central Florida heat.
”If they play, they have to go to Canada,” he said. “It’s money.”
Webb’s drive to Haines City, as it turned out, was one of the shorter commutes. Chris McCray hopped a bus in his home town of Orangeburg, S.C., which would only take him as far as neighboring Osceola County.
“That greyhound bus only went to Kissimmee, so I walked the rest of the way,” he said, adding that he got a lucky break on his walk to Haines City: a motorists who offered him a lift.
“He picked me up at 3 in the morning,” McCray laughed. “It’s crazy.”
But the inconvenience of getting to Cook Field, he said, was meaningless if he actually gets picked for the team – something he fully intended to work very hard to make happen.
“You only get one life, but you have to take chances to do what you want to do,” McCray said. “I’ve been playing football since I was four or five years old.”
The testing at Cook Field included a 40-yard dash, broad jump, short shuttle, vertical leap, and individual drills – a time-consuming display of physical strength, stamina and athletic ability. McCray said he was ready and excited for it to begin.
“You have to know your fundamentals and techniques and be at top performance,” he said. “You have to be versatile for all these events. I would not have come here if I didn’t feel I was ready. There’s no point in holding back at this.”
Another long-distance traveler was Marquez Gibson, who came down Augusta, Georgia, for the tryouts.
“I had to drive seven hours, really,” he said. “I went to Macon to watch my brother play in the state championship, and then I left and drove here. I made it here at 3 in the morning.”
Asked why he would travel so far to play in a football league in Canada, Gibson — who now coaches high school football — smiled and said, “I have a family. My family has to eat.”
Williams said Mid-Florida Football decided to organize the tryouts because they recognized that Central Florida has a lot of very talented athletes.
“We’re the ones who lined it up because we’ve done the training,” Williams said, adding that he got contacted by Chris Jones, the assistant general manager and defensive coordinator for the Toronto Argonauts.
“When Chris called me, he originally wanted to hold it in Tampa or Orlando, but I said ‘No, let’s hold it right here in Central Florida.’ We have a lot of athletes here, and this is going to be pro.”
The co-organizer, Tony Lott of Lakeland, said he expected several of the athletes who showed up in Haines City to get selected.
“They have a pretty good chance to make it,” he said.
Jones agreed, saying “I would think five or six guys will get contracts to come to our mini-camps. We have these workouts all over the country, and these guys travel in from all over. We’ve been doing these for four years now, and I believe in them.”
The event was moved indoors after on-again, off-again rain soaked the outside field. Jones said they were not going to postpone the tryouts because of the storm.
“The weather is going to cooperate,” he said. “We ‘re having it indoors. It’s 70 degrees and sunny in here.”
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