GREAT FALLS – Zachary Newman is a lifelong Calgary Stampeders fan and he knows full well where the team’s head coach grew up.
“Dave Dickenson is from right here in Great Falls!” he exclaimed.
That’s just one of the reasons the Calgary native is excited to be the sole Canadian representative on the East team for Saturday’s 72nd Annual Montana East-West Shrine Game, which has included one player from north of the border per side in each of the last five years.
“I was so excited to be selected,” he said. “I finally get to compare American football to Canadian football. Up in Canada, we’re usually known as not as good as down in the states, so I was glad to get a chance to come down here in the states and see what all the competition is down here.”
And what’s his impression so far?
“It’s some good competition,” he laughed. “I’ll definitely say it’s better than Canada. But I believe that Canadians are underestimated and I feel like we are just as good up in Canada as we are down here.”
It’s best not to underestimate the 6-3, 230 pound defensive lineman. Though hockey is king in Canada, Newman fell in love with football at a young age and has been playing just as long as his American counterparts.
“My dad pushed me to try it out at the age of eight,” Newman recalled. “My uncle actually played for the (University of Calgary) Dinos and was on the practice squad for the Stampeders, and he kind of pushed me to it as well. It kind of ran in the family. I had great coaches, great teammates and I just fell in love with the game.”
And he’s no slouch. Newman was an all-star tight end and fullback in high school and will play football in college at the University of Calgary.
“A couple years ago, playing college football was just a pipe dream for me,” he said. “I never thought I was going to get there but when I got a call from the head coach wanting to talk to me I was through the roof excited about it. And when I finally signed with him, it was huge for me and my family to get that position.”
Despite a difference in rules, mannerisms and of course a slightly different accent – Newman had fit in just fine with his new Montana teammates.
“They make fun of the accent for sure,” he laughed. “Some of them tread lightly around the Canadian, they don’t want to say anything offensive. But they’ve been so welcoming down here. I love it down here. If feel like I’m actually from down here and all the guys have known me forever.”
Newman knows the stereotype about being too polite. And while he’s incredibly personable in conversation, he’s quick to point out there’s nothing polite about the way he plays on the field.
“I got the heart. I got the hustle,” he said. “I always play the best that I can, I put my all into it. I may not be the most talented, the fastest, or the biggest kid. But I’ll put in the work and the effort to be that player and outwork anyone who’s bigger than me.”
And he knows his work is cut out for him this week.
“Everyone’s focused on the Montana kids down here and I respect that but I also want to kind of slide my name in there and put a name in for Canadian football,” he said. “Turn some heads and make people say ‘hey, that kids from Canada. He can do something.’”
Yep. He definitely belongs here.