GREAT FALLS — Both the East and West rosters for the 75th annual Montana East-West Shrine Game feature a football player from Canada. This year, for coach Mark Samson’s East squad, they scored six-foot-five 300-pound lineman Sylvester Ibelo from Alberta, Canada who is a load on the offensive and defensive line.
“That kid is athletic and he’s just a great kid, he loves it, he’s just having the time of his life down here,” Samson spoke of Ibelo.
Ibelo is getting his first taste of American football of the United States this week, which has been adjustment but the bigger change is from Canadian 12-man football to 11-man football.
“It’s a whole new experience and I love playing with the players it’s a great feeling,” Ibelo said. “Kind of weird because of the different rules but I’m getting used to it and I’m loving it out here.”
What has impressed Ibelo most is the talent level of Montana and his East teammates.
“It’s been a pleasure playing with these guys," he said. "The competition out here is actually really good and I’m happy I got the chance to be out here and play with these guys.”
Prior to being selected by the Shriners as the lone East Canadian player, Ibelo had never heard of the Shriner's organization but since being offered a spot, he has found a sense of joy in knowing that this game is helping raise money for kids in need.
“I learned a lot about it after being selected but it’s a great program. They help the kids out at the hospital and everything, I’m happy to be able to participate in that.”
The timing for Ibelo is a bit of a hurdle though as today he is taking his college entrance exam and has had to balance studying and this week’s practice to ensure acceptance into the University of Calgary where he will play football next year but thanks to the flexibility of the coaching staff, it’s nothing he can’t handle.
“I’m grateful for all the coaches. They allow me to take the time off to study and they make sure they help me pass the exam so I’m really grateful.”
Ibelo and the East take on the West on Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.