By Melissa Novacaska
Jacksonville Jaguars player Eli Ankou hosted a group of his hometown’s young athletes at his inaugural football camp on June 29 at the Louis-Riel dome.
Eli’s Dream Catcher Camp, as the free event was called, drew in roughly 150 kids, mostly from the Ottawa region.
Ankou, community partners, and a collection of those in his athletic circle came together for an afternoon of drills, games and guest speakers.
The 25-year-old defensive tackle who started playing football when he was 13 said he was excited for the event and while he wished there was a camp like this when he was growing up, he was happy to put one on to encourage kids to get active.
“It’s a camp to get kids from ages 8 to 18 to just come out and play for a couple of hours.
It’s really fun. I’m just glad to be in a position where I can hopefully give back to these kids and they can do whatever they want with the little bit of information and coaching and just run with it,” Ankou said. “I’m really excited about people from all backgrounds coming in.”
Though this is the first year of the camp, Ankou said he would like it to be an annual event, with at some point perhaps expanding beyond the Nation’s Capital.
Ankou also used the camp to kickstart his non-profit organization, the Dream Catcher Foundation.
The foundation hits home for Ankou, who has Indigenous roots and wants to help others who share his heritage get access to activities and support systems.
Ankou also noted that while his camp focused on being active, its underlying message was to show kids that they can achieve their dreams, with hard work and time well spent.
“[The kids] hear about guys like me on the news, and they don’t realize that this was a process. I think that was a big factor for me in talking about [it] in this camp was the fact that it doesn’t happen overnight. Kids are going to run into adversity and it’s just really how they deal with it down the road that’s going to count,” Ankou said. “There’s a formula to this and it’s mostly just hard work and putting yourself in a good position to be able to thrive.”
Esther Sobowale and Karrissa Amell, two of the camp’s participants and both part of the Ottawa football community had their own reasons for coming to the event.
Both athletes showed enthusiasm for the soon-to-be third-year pro hosting the camp in his community.
“I think it’s amazing that he came to teach us more about football and inspire us,” Amell said.
“That’s kind, generous and an inviting moment,” Sobowale said.