Beyond the game

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CFL Jeff Hecht CFLPA Saskatchewan Roughriders Edmonton Eskimos Calgary Stampeders Winnipeg Blue Bombers BC Lions What is it time for? Yup, it’s here…another Canadian Football League season, that special time of year when the calendar flips from hockey obsession to football infatuation.

As fans of the great game ourselves, we understand the importance of finding that extra bit of summer to squeeze in a CFL game on TSN, or to head to the stadium, grab a hotdog and soak in the live action along with tens of thousands of face-painted fanatics.

We understand the amount of time it takes to be a deeply committed fan…in fact; it might even get in the way of many of life’s obligations.

Time for football, time for my degree

When attending university, trying to squeeze in time to watch a game is challenging enough, now imagine trying to play and study. That’s what Jeff Hecht does and he does it well. Jeff is a 31-year old defensive back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After a stint with the Montreal Alouettes and4 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders (including a Grey Cup championship in 2014), he’s ready to settle into his second season with Saskatchewan’s pride and joy at the brand new Mosaic Stadium.

In June 2014, Athabasca University formally partnered with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association (CFLPA) as the official education provider for their players. We’re the perfect choice for the flexibility the players’ require every day and the educational pursuits they need now. With his eyes on a university certificate in finance from Athabasca University, Jeff Hecht is dominating on the field with another Grey Cup in mind…we’re happy we provide the flexibility he requires to pursue education and play the game we all love. Here’s to another great season!

Jeff Hecht’s balancing act

The Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winniepg, MB, September 10, 2016 Photo Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

Jeff Hecht & The Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winniepg, MB, September 10, 2016
Photo Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

We had the chance to catch up with Jeff over email and ask him just how he pulls off his balancing act.

Firstly, can you introduce yourself? Where were you born? When did you know you wanted to play football?

I am Jeff Hecht, a defensive back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. I started playing football in high school and just continued on from there.

How did you achieve the highest level? Did your education ever take a hit during high school, for instance?

I played 3 years of high school ball at WP Wagner in Edmonton then continued onto the Edmonton Wildcats Junior football program and played 5 years there.

In my third and fourth season I started to hear from coaches and such that I would maybe be able to reach the pro level. After my fifth year I went to Saint Mary’s University for the sole reason of getting an opportunity and the exposure necessary to get a shot in the CFL. I went undrafted in 2011. School suffered in high school but that wasn’t because of football — unfortunately I didn’t have much interest in school at that time.

I know you played for Saint Mary’s Huskies. Can you tell me a bit about that experience? Was it difficult to juggle academic work and competitive sport?

In university I did well, but my only goal was to remain academically eligible for 2.5 years so in that sense I was successful. I had played junior football while working full time prior to going to university so the workload was easily manageable. I’ve always been a workaholic and rarely become overwhelmed by a full plate.

What happened after SMU?

After University I moved home to train for the E-Camp in 2011, which didn’t go as well as I had hoped and I fell through in the draft. Thankfully the Montreal Alouettes called me 2 days later and I got the opportunity that I needed.

What has your life in the CFL been like? How much do you sense that players are thinking beyond their pro football careers?

My CFL life has been great. I was fortunate to end up in Calgary for my second season and remain there for 4 years. It is close to home and great for family and friends attending games. As long as you can handle an extremely high stress and highly physically demanding job coupled with the variable that you could lose that job any single day of the week, then the CFL is a breeze.

I would say most players do not have any sort of thought beyond their football playing careers.  Most guys, in my experience, believe they will play forever and are constantly “blindsided” by the news that they are no longer on a roster. However this is not specific to football.  I know many people who have lost jobs in Alberta over the last 18 months and have absolutely no Plan B to provide for their family. The difference is a football career is known to be short when you start it, so we are expected to have a grand alternate career ready to go.  Whereas the non-player who is out of work gets a free pass for his comparable naiveté.

What do you want to do when you stop playing?

I don’t know specifically what I want to do when I am finished playing — that is when someone else decides that I am finished playing. I have a trade ticket as a scaffolder, along with the possibilities of joining the police or fire services.

Which courses are you taking with AU and why?

I find myself leaning towards the desire to start a small business and control my own employment future. I just finished an accounting course with AU and am working in the direction towards a certificate in finances. The financial sector has taken most of my attention in the last 4 years and the more you learn the more you earn in that realm.

How has AU helped you achieve your education? What do you enjoy most about the framework of AU? What makes it different than other educational formats you’ve encountered?

What is great about AU for advancing my education is the free scheduling primarily. With a CFL schedule we end up having a good amount of down time, however, with travel and games, the hours are inconsistent.  Taking courses (days or nights) would be almost impossible to schedule properly, so the online format is great for being able to work when I have the time and be able to take a few days hiatus when it becomes necessary.

New stadium in Saskatchewan. How happy are you to be playing with the team again? What are your personal goals for the season? 

The Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in pre-season CFL action on June 10th, 2017 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Derek Mortensen/Electric Umbrella

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ new home: Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. 
Derek Mortensen/Electric Umbrella

The new stadium in Saskatchewan is amazing.  I tell everyone that if they can, to get here in person as soon as possible. It is really is extravagant. I’m excited for another season and excited for the direction the team is going. My personal goals are mainly to just stay healthy and stay on the field and contribute.  I think I have 17 or 18 regular season games to go to hit the 100-game milestone, so that is one of my main personal goals for this season. Consistency has been a staple of my career I believe.

What’s the atmosphere like in Regina? How does it differ than other clubs you’ve played with?

The football fans in Regina are great.  It really is crazy when you think of how small the city of Regina actually is and how easily they seem to fill the stadium every single game. It’s still close enough to home that it is manageable for my girlfriend and family to attend games that they want to. This was another key factor in choosing to be back in Saskatchewan.