Special to CFL.ca
His parents were a little reluctant in allowing their son to strap on the pads for the very first time in grade eight.
"I was more of a hockey player growing up. So when I was 13 [my friend] convinced me to come to one of the team practices and to sign up," said fourth-year Guelph Gryphon defensive back, James Savoie.
Fortunately for Savoie his parents allowed him to play the violent collision sport, which has him on the cusp of a pro career.
"Once I got out there [my parents] saw me practicing they were supportive." said Savoie. "I think that's what made them a bit nervous, about seeing me out there smashing heads with players who were a lot bigger than me."
The talented defensive back happens to be the smallest player in terms of height, heading into the CFL Evaluation camp. Savoie and one other attendee are listed at 5' 9”. Despite his diminutive stature, Savoie has always had a thirst for bringing the pain.
"My coaches saw that I liked to tackle and l liked the contact," said Savoie.
It was clear soon after Savoie started playing football as a young boy that he quickly developed a love for the game of football. He played for a travelling football team, located in Niagara Falls, NY, during the fall and played for the Niagara Spears of the Ontario Varsity Football League during the summer.
"I did try out in grade nine, but eventually quit the junior varsity high school team in order to play for the Cataract Eagles. They played teams from all over Buffalo and the New York area," said Savoie. "My first two years of high school I was playing with [the Eagles], with what I thought was some more talented players. The speed of the game was certainly different, much better athletes across the boarder."
Savoie joined the high school varsity team at Saint Michael Catholic High School in grade 11. He had played on both sides of the football growing up, but it was during his first tryout for Team Southern Ontario, Savoie realized where his natural position on the football field might be.
"It was actually there that I decided to switch to defensive back because when the initial team huddle broke I took a look at the wide receivers and they seemed a lot bigger than me," said Savoie. "I stuck with it from that point on."
The decision to be a full time defensive back paid off quickly for Savoie. He turned himself into a shutdown cover man for his high school and summer football teams.
Savoie then worked his way up for a chance to compete with elite players from across Canada to represent our country at the Junior World Football Championships. Savoie proved he had the talent to wear the maple leaf on his chest at the 2005 and 2006 tournaments.
"It was a confidence builder," said Savoie. "I always wanted to measure myself against the best. A lot of the players I played with [on Team Canada] are in the same boat as I am now where they’re preparing for the evaluation camp."
Savoie was not just a role player on the Canadian teams, but a standout athlete. With his strong play he caught the attention of many Canadian university head coaches.
"Being recruited by Kyle Walters was a major factor,” said Savoie. “He had played my position professionally so I just saw the chance to fully meet my potential as a football player here at Guelph."
Savoie immediately made an impact for the Gryphons earning a starting position in his rookie year and he has been in the starting lineup for each and every game Guelph has played during his four-year career.
“He came in and started for us in his first year. Moved and contributed more on special teams and became a leader,” said former Gryphon football head coach, now Winnipeg Blue Bombers special teams Coordinator, Kyle Walters.
Not to mention Savoie earned three consecutive first-team OUA selections and All-Canadian honours at defensive back during his second and third seasons.
“Clearly the way you compare him to his peers you know he is going to have a shot to get a look at the CFL level,” said Walters, the former Guelph head coach who was a key piece in the development of Savoie.
"With Coach Walters being a professional I trusted him,” said Savoie. “Whether it would be with workouts or whether it would be with game film, I trusted in his advice and followed that and it has got me to where I am today."
Currently Savoie is preparing for the biggest football challenge in his career, not that he has ever backed down from one.
"It’s always been a goal of mine, ever since I have gotten here to Guelph, to make a run at the CFL," said Savoie "I feel like I'm prepared. That's just the next goal is to have a great evaluation camp and get noticed by some CFL teams."
Savoie has engulfed himself in CFL football as he is currently working on a school project where he will mock design an outdoor stadium that eliminates the elements and creates a more comfortable environment for fans and players.
"I decided I'd like to take a look at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton given that they're actually doing a redesign now and its proximity to Guelph," said Savoie.
The irony is that Savoie is hoping to play in the same stadium he is currently trying to redesign for his project.
He has been working hard in the classroom on his stadium project while also working hard to improve his football skills heading into the CFL Evaluation camp in Toronto from March 4-6.
"I'm trying to work with a diverse group of receivers of all different skill levels," said Savoie. "I'm putting a lot more time into focusing on the football side of things."
Savoie certainly recognizes how important his parents have been in helping to get their son to the brink of a CFL career.
"That’s really where the credit is due and supporting me constantly and doing everything in their power to help me succeed as a football player and as a young man."