Self-determination isn’t a skill that’s acquired easily, but for offensive lineman Kyle Wilfer, it’s come relatively naturally.
A product of local powerhouse St. Paul’s, Wilfer didn’t take the standard route when it came to the recruiting process. The average player goes through the provincial team program, hoping to make a name for themself during the Canada Cup. But Wilfer opted for the self-made approach, starting in grade nine.
“My mom would film the games so I could make a good highlight tape and start the recruiting process,” he says. “I got some responses from there and it just grew and grew.”
Wilfer comes from a football family and has been playing the game his whole life, starting at the minor football level with the Fort Gary Lions. But entering grade 10 – as a rookie on St. Paul’s AAA squad – a new challenge was thrust upon him when he was asked to switch from the defensive to offensive line.
“I remember [head] coach [Stacy] Dainard bringing me into his office and saying ‘hey Kyle, if you want to play at the next level, you’re going to have to play offensive line.’ I was 6’3, 220 pounds and I’m thinking to myself, hey I’m 220 pounds there’s no way in hell I can play offensive line right now, but it was a lot of time to bulk up.”
Wilfer spent all summer working out and “eating whatever he could,” in order to be ready for his debut season at the AAA level. Not only did he achieve this feat, he also started – at left tackle no less – on a squad littered with grade 11’s and 12’s. Wilfer was rewarded for his efforts at season’s end with the team’s rookie of the year award.
He would switch to right tackle in his grade 11 season and then back to the blind side in grade 12, winning back-to-back championships in the process as a valuable leader and captain for his squad.
“[Switching positions] was a huge jump and a lot of pressure, but it really made me into the offensive lineman that I am today, since it is a high pressure position, protecting your quarterback,” he says.
Teams across Canada also took notice of Wilfer’s skills, including the current Vanier Cup champion Western Mustangs, as well as StFX, Alberta and Simon Fraser in the NCAA. But Wilfer felt most at home with the Bisons. Head coach Brian Dobie started talking with him in grade 10, and the bond they formed over the years was invaluable.
“Coach Dobie and I have a great relationship,” Wilfer says. “We’ve had many meetings and many great talks, not just about football, but about life, which is an awesome thing.”
Wilfer felt comfortable enough with the Bisons program that he chose to commit before his senior season was even over – putting pen to paper in October. Seeing alumni such as David Onyemata and Geoff Gray – a fellow offensive lineman – make it to the NFL was also a big factor in Wilfer’s final decision. His long-term goal is to follow in their footsteps and make a name for himself south of the border.
“Any success in life isn’t any one persons doing, it’s a team effort,” he says. “It was hard work for Geoff Gray to [make it to the NFL], but he also had the support of his trainers and coaches at the U of M, and that’s something that I wanted to be a part of.”