By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Chris Mushenza is no stranger to adaptation, both on and off the gridiron.
He’s travelled frequently in his life, living in locations such as Hamilton, Ontario, and St. Lazare, Manitoba, before settling in Winnipeg for his senior year of high school in 2017.
Mushenza spent most of his teen years in St. Lazare, which is a small community roughly three hours away from Winnipeg.
“There’s not much to say about [St. Lazare] actually,” he says. “There’s probably a population of less than 300, so it was really secluded.”
Growing up, Mushenza always played sports. He was a basketball guy for the most part, but that all changed when he moved to Manitoba.
“There wasn’t a lot of basketball in St. Lazare, so I had to find another sport, and I started playing football,” he says.
“I just fell in love with it from there.”
Mushenza’s first taste of organized football occurred in grade 10, where he played two seasons with the Park West Outlaws of the Rural Manitoba Football League. He suited up as a receiver for his squad, where he was able to display his athleticism.
Prior to his senior year, Mushenza was forced to adapt once more, as his family moved to Winnipeg. One of the first things he did that summer was find a high school that was offering a receivers camp. Grant Park fit the bill.
“When I came to Winnipeg I didn’t really know anybody,” he says. But in the summer at the receiving camp I made a couple friends, and then I went to the training camp at Grant Park after deciding to come to school here, and it just went on from there.”
Mushenza was quick to point out the role that Grant Park head coach Doug Kovacs had on him during his transition to a new school.
“He was really great. The first day I met him he gave me his number and we were texting back and forth. He also gave my parents a tour of the school, and really helped us with applying and getting into school.”
The coaching staff threw a curveball at Mushenza prior to the season however, asking him to start both ways as a receiver and linebacker. While he’d never played the latter before, he trusted in the coaching he was given.
“I just love playing football,” he says. “Obviously I was more used to playing receiver, but coach Kovacs and [linebackers] coach [Steve] Silver and all the defensive coaches really helped me learn the position of linebacker.”
Mushenza noted that playing both ways helped him learn the game more, while also increasing his intensity. The results on the field showed, as Grant Park was regarded as one of the league’s best defensive teams. Mushenza contributed 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumbled and a fumble recovery.
“I was always a physical receiver, but hitting on defence was a lot different,” he says. “I felt like I became a more aggressive player as the year went along, because you have to be when you’re playing linebacker. Overall, it felt like my whole football IQ went up.”
When the season ended, Mushenza started sending his highlights to various university football programs. Scott Flory – the head coach of the Saskatchewan Huskies – got back to him expressing interest. The two met, and Mushenza was impressed with their interaction.
“Coach Scott Flory is a really genuine guy, and overall I hear good things about him. He just seems like he cares about the players and is trying to get to not only play football but gain an education too.”
For Mushena, the 2018 season will signal another adjustment to a new city. But the linebacker is ready for what’s ahead.
“I just felt like it was a good fit, based on the type of linebacker [Saskatchewan] want me to be,” he says.
“They want me to play more of an outside/DB type linebacker, which I feel more comfortable with, because I don’t feel I’m big enough to be a rush end or inside linebacker. I’m big enough and fast enough to cover receivers and running backs, so I felt comfortable there.”