Jason Dyler has been coaching minor football in Calgary for more than 12 years, but if Alberta doesn’t see a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations, he may miss another season of football.
In Dyler’s youth, he had aspirations to continue playing football in university, but a leg injury sidelined that idea, revealing a new opportunity.
“My senior year, I broke my ankle pretty badly playing dodgeball, joking around like a teenager does. It took me a year to recover, so while I was rehabbing, I decided to just come back and contribute. And [coaching] just stuck from there.”
While Dyler was playing high school football, he got the opportunity to play for a group of legendary coaches. Playing under Greg Peterson and his staff, he was surrounded by former Grey Cup champions and CFL All-Stars.
“I had great coaches. When I played [there were] a lot of CFL coaches that taught me the value of technique. And so when I transitioned to coaching, it wasn’t a hard transition because I just continue to preach fundamentals and the stuff that made me successful.”
Dyler has taken these lessons with him throughout his coaching career, including now as the head coach of the Spring Football Stampeders.
The Stampeders have had a rocky history, leaving them in need of someone to step-up and lead the team, something Cole Morgan — one of Dyler’s former players — noticed from day one.
“We’ve always struggled with [player] numbers,” says Morgan
“We’d start off pretty strong going into the season, but after the first couple of games a lot of people ended up quitting. But Jason did whatever it took to be able to continue playing.”
Dyler isn’t disheartened by the challenges he faces with his new team. Instead, he’s motivated by the history of the Stampeders and wants to push the program to new heights.
“The real gauge of being a good coach is what you can do with players and a program that has no experience,” said Dyler.
“It’s hard on [player] numbers, [so] can you find a way to bring together that group and make them achieve something good, achieve something great.”
But Dyler has discovered new problems as the 2021 season approaches. He has found it difficult to spread the word about spring football and the Stampeders, especially during the pandemic.
“In times past, you’d be going into school, right? You have either coaches that are in the high schools, or you have a meeting at lunch. Putting a face to your coach and chatting with the players and showing interest in them and showing them that you want them to play for you.”
On top of recruitment issues, the league is paying close attention to the COVID-19 numbers, ensuring that everyone will be safe if they are to return to the field this spring.
“We have stuff in place where we’re going to be following very, very strict health guidelines. In terms of the proper amount of cohorts, the proper amount of sanitation of the equipment and the distancing, we take it very seriously,” said Dyler
“It poses some new challenges, but you know in the end you have to do it if you want to play the game, so we are happy to do it.”
Dyler’s former coach and the current president of the Calgary Spring Football Association, Greg Peterson, confirmed Dyler’s appraisal of the league’s future, noting the strict regulations and numerous hurdles that remain in the way.
“We’ve put together a total COVID protocol book that requires you to ‘do this, do that.’ We adapted and used a draft of our own according to the bantam program and other leagues that we’re doing [that], so we’ve got all the protocols in place to protect people,” says Peterson.
“We have playoffs, but it’s not going to be that way this year. This year we’d be happy if we can just keep kids out playing football.”
As of now, the league is looking at a slow transition back onto the field, allowing small groups to do cardio workouts outside with ample distancing and no contact, but the question of playing games is still up in the air.
“It’s going to depend [on] how responsible people are in the football community, but [also] as a society in general,” said Dyler.
“If we can just hold strong and get these numbers down a little bit further so we can go back to getting a semblance of normalcy. And if we don’t do that, then I don’t think we’re going to have a season.”
The 2021 season will be very unique, not dissimilar to other sports trying to play through the pandemic. With many different options being presented to the league, all Dyler can do now is watch film and prepare as usual while waiting on the league to guide him forward.