Golden Bears’ Ilnicki named Canada West athlete of the year
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.”
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.