Since he was seven years old, Nicholas Westad has had a dream.
It’s a typical dream.
He closes his eyes and sees himself running down a long dark tunnel, barreling out into a brightly lit football stadium while thousands of fans cheer.
National Football League?
Canadian Football League?
For this 18-year-old Chilliwack native, the dream has always been to play CIS football at a Canadian university. And in a few weeks, the big defensive end will get his chance with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
“In Grade 11, (Manitoba) coach (Brian) Dobie came up to me after a game and he said, ‘You have the ability to play at the next level,’” Westad recalled. “‘But you have to promise me you’ll train hard, eat right and do everything you can to get better.’
“And I said, ‘OK. I promise.’”
Dobie was one of several coaches who came calling during Westad’s last two seasons with the W.J. Mouat Hawks, an Abbotsford-based high school football program and perennial title contender.
Westad had interest from the Queen’s Gaels, UBC Thunderbirds, Simon Fraser Clansmen and the Calgary Dinos.
The junior football Okanagan Sun did a fly-by as well. But Dobie and the Bisons were the most impressive.
“Those are all very good universities and very good programs,” Westad said. “But I really, really liked the way coach Dobie presented his school. I had to pick something, so I went with my gut.”
Westad’s gut is landing him in Winnipeg, not the most desirable of destinations in the fall and winter months. The university campus is right next to the Red River, and Westad joked about needing a shot-gun to fend off Manitoba’s legendary horseflies.
“I have no problem moving so far away if I’m doing something I love,” the hulking teenager reasoned.
Westad played seven years with Chilliwack Minor Football, and for the longest time was a quarterback.
He said he loved every minute of it.
In his Grade 10 year at Mouat, a coach pulled him aside and told him he’d be making the move to the defensive line.
Most guys would be bothered being turfed from football’s ‘marquee position.’ Westad admits he was bothered. At a crossroads, his football dreams could have gone off the rails. But Westad chose to embrace the change, and it’s worked out very well.
“I loved every minute of playing quarterback, but I live and breathe football and the coach can put me whereever he wants and I’ll try to be the best,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it at first. But you know what? The coaches told me I would excel on the line, and it’s turned out to be a good thing.”
Westad will play home games at Investors Group Field, the shiny new home of the Bisons and CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He’ll play in front of one of the most passionate CIS fan bases.
He’s looking forward to leaving Chilliwack Aug. 10 and joining his new teammates on campus.
Let the journey begin.
“I’m excited about the stadium, but more excited about meeting my teammates and playing at that level,” Westad said. “Coming out of that tunnel before the game, with the fans yelling and screaming. That’s what I’ve dreamed about for 10 years and it’s about to happen.”
Get Bisons info at gobisons.ca/