Global grid title. Hopes to help Canada avenge last year's loss


Sammy Okpro is a talented cornerback and punt returner. He will represent Canada this month in the NFL's Global Junior Football Championship in Houston.
Photo John Kenney, The Gazette

By Arpon Basu, freelance / January 14, 2004

Sammy Okpro is off to Houston to complete a mission.

The 19-year-old cornerback for the Vanier Cheetahs silver medal-winning football team has had his share of tough luck in championship games over the last few years.

First, there were the three losses in the Bol d'Or championship game as a player in the North Shore Mustangs bantam and midget programs.

There's also Vanier's 27-14 loss in the collegiate Bol d'Or championship in November that still smarts, especially because he graduates this spring with a degree in commerce.

But the setback on Okpro's mind this week as he prepares to leave with Team Canada for the NFL Global Junior Football Championship in Houston is a 28-21 loss to the U.S. in the final of last year's event.

The Canadians were up 14 points with less than three minutes to go, but gave up a touchdown with 15 seconds left to force overtime, where they lost on the extra period's first possession.

"I get a second chance to win something," Okpro said at his Pierrefonds home. "It's so hard just to get there, then to lose is so heartbreaking."

Even with the bad memories, Okpro appreciates the chance to be there during Super Bowl week for a second straight year. Team Canada will compete in a round-robin of 14-minute games against Japan, Russia, Mexico and a Houston-area all-star team representing the U.S. The championship is a full-length game played on Jan. 31, the eve of the Super Bowl.

"It gives you a chance to meet players from across the country, players you normally play against," Okpro said. "It was a nice experience going down there to represent my country."

Okpro's tough luck in the big game is made even more difficult to swallow by the fact he has always excelled at his position.

He was named the league's most valuable defensive player in his second year of midget football, when he scored eight touchdowns without playing on offence. He had four punt returns, three interception returns and scored another on a fake punt.

He was the CEGEP league's rookie of the year three years ago, and was named to the all-star team last season when he had a league-best nine interceptions.

This year, Okpro tied for the league lead in interceptions with six, the drop caused more by opposing quarterbacks' reluctance to throw in his direction than any slip in his level of play. He also was the league's best punt returner with a 10.6-yard average and two touchdowns.

Okpro expects to continue his football career at Concordia University next fall, after which he is hoping for a shot at the CFL. He has good size for a corner at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, and isn't afraid to use it to his advantage bumping receivers coming off the line.

But before those aspirations can be realized, Okpro's got a score to settle in Houston.

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