'Something in the tap water' at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, which counts 3 Grey Cup champs among alumni

If the saying "champions aren't born, they're made" is true, one might want to look at what's happening at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, which now counts three Grey Cup champions among its alumni.

Sturgeon Heights currently has 4 former students currently playing in the CFL, including Grey Cup champs

Former Huskies football coach Brett Watt, centre, with running back Kienan Lafrance, left, and wide receiver Anthony Coombs, right, both former students at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

If the saying "champions aren't born, they're made" is true, one might want to look at what's happening at ​​Winnipeg's Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, which welcomed some of its distinguished past athletes back for a fundraiser this week.

The high school now counts among its alumni four current Canadian Football League players, three of whom are wearing a Grey Cup ring.

All four players once played for the same Huskies football team, winning the AA championship in 2008.

"It's crazy when you think about it. I dunno, maybe it's something in the tap water that we drink in the hallways," joked Anthony Coombs, wide receiver for the 2017 Grey Cup-winning Toronto Argonauts and class of 2010 at Sturgeon Heights.

"It's good to see all your classmates, and former classmates go on and do great things," he said.

Fellow alumni Kienan Lafrance — now a Saskatchewan Roughrider and 2016 Grey Cup winner with his former team, the Ottawa Redblacks — graduated Class of 2009 as a Husky.

Twin brothers Justin and Jordan Herdman, who play for Toronto and B.C. respectively, are also former Huskies, following just a few years behind Lafrance and Coombs. Justin was also part of this season's Grey Cup-winning Argos team.

The Winnipeg High School Football League says there are 18 athletes who formerly played in the league currently with CFL teams, including three with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

'Pros' and 'Joes' competed in a basketball game Wednesday, raising money for Sam's Christmas, which provides hampers to Winnipeg families. (Holly Caruk)

"[Sturgeon Heights] was probably my first organized sports experience, where you have travelling with a team and everything, and it really shaped who I am as a person and as an athlete too," said Coombs.

He and Lafrance were at the Collegiate Wednesday to play in a basketball game with students as part of an annual fundraiser the school hosts called "Pros vs. Joes."

The week-long event sees professional athletes take on students, or "regular Joes," in a series of sporting and entertainment events over the lunch hours that raise money for Christmas hampers for up to 50 families.

Coombs participated in the event as a "Joe" back in his high school days, and has returned the past few years to give back.

"A big part of my identity is being a professional athlete and if it wasn't for this school, and the people at this school, I wouldn't be where I am today," he said.

Lafrance has also taken part in the event for several years and remembers his days as a "Joe," and playing against some former Blue Bomber greats.

"I was playing against guys like Doug Brown for example, I think Obby Khan was out here.… It's cool to be able to grow with something that's a good aspect for the city."

The Grey Cup winners couldn't quite put their finger on why the school has been so successful in churning out CFL players, but their former football coach, Brett Watt, says the players drove their own success.

"[The school] just has a great bunch of kids and a great bunch of players that came in and they [were] hard workers, good dedicated football players, and it was a lot of fun to coach and see them move on," he said.

Watt still teaches math at the school but no longer coaches football. He said having his former players go on to the CFL has been a great motivator for his current students.

"It gives them a hope and an understanding that if those two can do it, anybody can do it," he said of Coombs and Lafrance.

"As a coach you always want to see your football players become [not just] better students of the game, but good ambassadors of the school and they are great people."

Players 'tremendous role models' for students

Current Huskies player Brock Gutowski has a full scholarship to the University of Manitoba, where he will play on the Bison's offensive line.

"They're tremendous role models to me and they really drive me to get to where I want to be in the CFL," said Gutowski, who is currently in Grade 12.

Brock Gutowski, offensive lineman for the Huskies, says seeing players like Lafrance and Coombs go on to win the Grey Cup motivates him to pursue his dream of playing professional football. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"It makes me feel that maybe one day I can bring a Grey Cup back to Sturgeon Heights."

Gutowski said it's more than just a coincidence his school's alumni are so successful, and it isn't the water.

"It's the Husky pride … you have to have the heart to get to be where you wanna be in life, and you can totally see it through these guys."

About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca