Golden Bears’ Il­nicki named Canada West ath­lete of the year

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - JA­SON HILLS hill­sy­jay@gmail.com Twit­ter: @hill­sy­jay

Ed Il­nicki started keep­ing a jour­nal this past year.

En­ter­ing his fi­nal year with the Uni­ver­sity of Alberta Golden Bears foot­ball pro­gram, he wanted to use it as a way to re­flect back on his time as a stu­dent ath­lete, and he’s cer­tainly had an amaz­ing year to look back upon.

This week, the for­mer Golden Bears run­ning back was named Canada West male ath­lete of the year and is one of four fi­nal­ists for the Doug Mitchell Tro­phy, given to the all-around U Sports male ath­lete of the year — part of the BLG Awards in Van­cou­ver on June 4.

The other award nom­i­nees in­clude a pair of basketball stars in Uni­ver­sity of New Brunswick guard Javon Mas­ters and Lau­ren­tian Voyageurs guard Kadre Gray, as well as Con­cor­dia wrestler Fran­cis Carter.

“When you think about how you’re just a small per­cent­age of an al­ready small per­cent­age of ath­letes that get to pur­sue their re­spec­tive sports at the uni­ver­sity level, and to win this award and be nom­i­nated for the na­tional award, it’s some­thing that you can re­ally re­flect on and I take such a great deal of pride in,” said Il­nicki.

This lat­est hon­our is part of a long list of big achieve­ments this year. The star run­ning back capped off an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer with the Golden Bears. He helped lead the pro­gram back into the play­offs for the first time since 2010. He broke the Canada West sin­gle­sea­son rush­ing record with 1,468 yards, and also broke the pro­gram’s sin­gle-sea­son all-pur­pose yards record with 1,619.

Il­nicki helped put the Golden Bears back on the na­tional stage, win­ning the Hec Crighton Tro­phy. Il­nicki was also named the Uni­ver­sity of Alberta’s ath­lete of the year.

“He’s the best all-around ath­lete I’ve ever coached,” said Bears head coach Chris Mor­ris.

“I con­sider it a priv­i­lege to be able to coach him. You have kids that are great lead­ers, or great ath­letes or great in the class­room. He em­bod­ies all of those at­tributes, and that’s rare.”

For Il­nicki, he’s go­ing to look back on his time as a stu­dent-ath­lete with noth­ing but fond mem­o­ries.

“It’s easy to look back on the big mo­ments, and they’re mo­ments I’m go­ing to cher­ish for­ever, but it’s also been a year where I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced so much growth per­son­ally,” said Il­nicki.

“I’ve had so many in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences as a stu­dent ath­lete at the U of A, ex­pe­ri­ences I will never be able to ex­pe­ri­ence again, but they’re go­ing to help me reach my goals in the future.”

Il­nicki was drafted by the Ot­tawa Red­blacks in 2017 and was one of the fi­nal cuts last June.

He didn’t let be­ing cut bring him down, in­stead us­ing it as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, which gave him the con­fi­dence to come back for one fi­nal year of uni­ver­sity foot­ball and have a record-set­ting sea­son.

Now with his uni­ver­sity ca­reer be­hind him, Il­nicki is back at Red­blacks train­ing camp this week look­ing to start his pro foot­ball ca­reer jour­ney.

“When you have a gift like this in front of you, you don’t want to waste it, be­cause there are a mil­lion other peo­ple that would love that same op­por­tu­nity,” said Il­nicki. “Last year (at Red­blacks camp) I was able to do some things that were great on the field, but I made a lot of mis­takes in train­ing camp. There were times where I could’ve been in a better po­si­tion, or made a better de­ci­sion away from the ball.

“I’m ex­cited to go out and prove my­self again on the field. I’ve be­come more con­fi­dent in my­self as a player and I’m ready for this camp.”

Il­nicki will be battling for play­ing time be­hind Red­blacks run­ning backs William Pow­ell and Mos­sis Madu Jr. and if he cracks the ros­ter, will play a strong role on spe­cial teams.

“Ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I get means so much more to the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion. I’m go­ing to have to show what I can do when I get that op­por­tu­nity,” said Il­nicki. “I need to show the or­ga­ni­za­tion that I can con­trib­ute on spe­cial teams, and carve out op­por­tu­ni­ties that come along with it. When that time comes, I need to be ready.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

Uni­ver­sity of Alberta Golden Bears run­ning back Ed Il­nicki, shown with the Hec Crighton Tro­phy, was named Canada West male ath­lete of the year this week.

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