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As a kid, Marc Mueller had a significant advantage compared to other young Canadian football players.
His grandfather, after all, was Ron Lancaster, one of the greatest quarterbacks in Canadian Football League history. Lancaster retired as a player more than a decade before Mueller was born, but the late legend’s time as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats provided the grandson an invaluable opportunity for an advanced football education.
“That was my summer camp,” says Mueller, the former University of Regina quarterback who has served on the Stampeders coaching staff for the past three seasons. “I’d go down to Hamilton for months at a time and do that. I’d be on the practice field with the guys and hanging out.
“I probably did more goofing off than paying attention,” he adds with a chuckle, “but it was lots of fun.”
Not everyone can have a Hall-of-Famer and CFL head coach for a grandfather, but Dave Dickenson’s annual football camp has provided aspiring Calgary football players with many of the same opportunities to hang around pro players and coaches and to learn the game.
Now in its ninth season, the Dickenson Passing Academy features a distinguished list of instructors including its own Hall-of-Famer – Dickenson was inducted in 2015 – as well as reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell, two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner Andrew Buckley, all-star receiver Marquay McDaniel, alumni Jon Cornish, Ryan Thelwell and Jabari Arthur as well as Stamps coaches Mueller, Ryan Dinwiddie and Pete Costanza.
Over the course of eight sessions spread over four weekends, young quarterbacks, receivers and running backs watch film in the same McMahon Stadium meeting rooms used by Stamps players during the season. In fact, the sessions remind Mueller of those days he was a fly on the wall at Ticats meetings.
“The stuff that I learned was very similar to Dave’s teaching in the meeting room,” explains Mueller, who is in his third year of working at Dickenson’s camp. “When you get to sit in the back of the room as a 13-year-old, it’s pretty cool. These young men (attending the Dickenson Passing Academy) get to do the same thing on a different scale. They’re getting the same training that Stamps players get.”
After the film session, the players head over to the fieldhouse at the nearby Absolute Baseball Academy to run through drills and put into practice what they’ve just watched on the screen.
“The teaching you get at Dave’s – especially for four weekends and eight sessions – is pretty good,” says Mueller. “You get to watch film of what you’re about to do in that practice and then you get to go out on the field and learn it from the guys that you watch every Friday and Saturday night.
“Dave’s the coach of the year, so that’s pretty cool. Then you have Bo, who’s the guy you’re watching on film, teaching you throughout the camp. So for that alone, it’s worth it. Then anytime you’re getting extra reps and anytime you’re getting on the field, you get better. It’s a chance for these guys to get better. It’s a great opportunity for these junior high and high school kids.”
Mueller is also a big fan of the Academy’s schedule – Fridays and Saturdays over a four-week period.
“A lot of (of football camps) are only a weekend camp and you get jammed with so much stuff in four practices over two days, you don’t really have a chance to retain it,” he remarks. “This one, you go Friday-Saturday, then you have a week to work on the stuff and then you come back and you learn something new.”
Mueller gets satisfaction from watching the young players develop.
“It’s cool to see that,” he nods. “It’s cool to see kids start in the younger group and then, as they move up, they’ve done the drills and they’ve worked on them (and) you see how much better guys have gotten from year to year. Or even from weekend to weekend. It’s a cool feeling to be coaching that age group again.”
A number of camp attendees have gone on to play university football including Denzel Radford, Boston Rowe and Alex Basilis of the U of C Dinos.
“Dave talks about that a lot,” says Mueller. “That’s the reason for the camp is to help these young men get better as football players and help these young men play junior football or play CIS football or go to the States. Hopefully they can get better, learn something and progress to the next level.”