Blue developing local talent

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

This should be the beginning of some beautiful football relationships.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have invited University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback Jon Hooton and two Winnipeg Rifles -- defensive end Jeff Noga and receiver Simon Blaszczak -- to their training camp, the CFL club announced yesterday.

Bombers head coach Jim Daley is open to making this an annual procedure, just as long as such players are capable of competing in camp and are eligible.

"It has to do with developing players," he said. "It was critical that we identified guys who were very, very high calibre and close to our calibre. They're not ready to play in our league right now, but they're close and they're very good players in their leagues. They bring to camp legs, skills.

"They won't know, and we won't know, just how close or how far away they are from making the transition to the CFL until we give them opportunities to experience it."

Hooton, who was plucked in the new post-Canadian draft draft, is eligible because he was in his draft year, while the Rifles are returning juniors. None of the three will count toward the training camp roster limit.

"We want this to be successful," said Rifles head coach Mike Watson, who hopes it becomes an annual affair. "We'll see how this goes and go from there."

Hooton was invited to help save the other quarterbacks' arms and allow them to concentrate on schemes.

"It wasn't a specific invitation to develop a Canadian quarterback but to use skills that were available to fit a niche for us," Daley said. "Jonathan can throw the ball. He throws it with great velocity and with really good accuracy and therefore has a skill that we can capitalize on."

Hooton, 26, was thrilled to get invited.

"It was just absolute excitement," said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Richmond, B.C. native. "The chance to throw the ball around with these guys is going to be an honour. I'll be a little bit nervous but I think anybody coming into their first camp would be.

"I also want to show them that I have some arm strength, some smarts and that I'm not just another guy hanging around. And it will definitely pick my game up a little bit."

CHALLENGE

Meanwhile, Watson believes that Blaszczak, 21, and Noga, 22 -- both Winnipeggers -- can handle both the physical and mental aspects of pro camp.

Daley expects the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Blaszczak to push defensive backs deep with his speed and challenge them with his height.

"I was totally blown away, shocked and surprised," he said. "I'll be pretty nervous but hopefully once you go in there with the mindset of working hard, things will work out."

And Daley expects the 6-foot-3, 258-pound Noga to rush the passer.

"The opportunity is great," he said. "Up until now, it's been pretty nerve-wracking. But once you get on the field and the first hit's made, it's just football. I just want to work really hard, take everything in stride and listen to what everybody has to say."

All three players will take time off from their summer jobs.


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