Playing junior football can serve as a springboard towards a university career for a number of players, and with running back Kienan LaFrance and receiver Alex Vitt, that has been exactly the case.
Vitt’s path started in community football with the Greendell Falcons, and then the St. Vital Mustangs. With the Mustangs, Vitt won two Midget Football League of Manitoba championships, including being named MVP in the 2008 final.
After finishing off his midget football eligibility in the 2008 season, Vitt opted to attend both a CIS and Canadian Junior Football League football camp, with the University of Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Rifles, respectively. Ultimately, Vitt chose the Rifles.
“Coming out of high school, I was small, and I wasn’t very fast, so I wouldn’t have been anything on the Bisons,” Vitt said. “I took the Rifles, because I just wanted to play and develop there.”
LaFrance’s football journey started relatively late. He didn’t strap on the pads for the first time until age 15, with the St. James Rods. After a year of playing community ball, he moved onto Sturgeon Heights High School, where he won a Winnipeg High School Football League championship in his senior season in 2008.
LaFrance’s abilities as a ball carrier led to interest from universities such as Alberta and Simon Fraser. However, LaFrance ultimately chose to take the junior football route as well.
“[Playing with Sturgeon Heights] was my second year of real competitive football, where I’m applying to get better, and play to be the best,” LaFrance said. “I felt like [CIS football] kind of wasn’t a good fit, to go and compete against guys who had been playing for 10 years.”
While with the Rifles—Vitt from 2009-11 and LaFrance from 2009-10—both players earned CJFL All Canadian honours (LaFrance in 2010, Vitt in 2011), and made names for themselves locally. Vitt was on top of the Prairie Football Conference in receiving yards during his final season, while LaFrance led the Rifles in rushing during both of his two years with the team.
After impressing in junior, the two local products were recruited to the U of M, where they are now in their fourth year of eligibility, and have put up big numbers in 2014.
LaFrance played in all eight regular season games, finishing second in the Canada West conference in rushing yards, with 785, while Vitt played in seven of eight games, logging 489 receiving yards, good for eighth in the conference and second on the team.
“I think that in terms of goals, you need to set mini goals in order to get to those major ones. I figured that [junior football] was the best stepping stone in order to prepare myself for [the CIS],” LaFrance said.
Both players made an intelligent decision to hone their skills in junior football, instead of moving directly to CIS football, and their patience and hard work has paid off. With one year of eligibility remaining for each, the best is likely yet to come for LaFrance and Vitt.