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He’s still under his first contract in the Canadian Football League, but that hasn’t stopped Mark Korte from taking a peek ahead to what his professional future may hold.
With the 2020 season cancelled, the Ottawa Redblacks offensive lineman is back on campus at the University of Alberta where he played from 2014-17 under Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris.
The two have reunited for the Golden Bears Elite 80, a series of high-school football camps taking place on the weekends inside the dome at Foote Field, where Korte – who would have been playing in his third CFL season – is getting his first taste of coaching life.
“It’s really good, we’ve got good coaches that are university coaches, pro players, pro coaches,” said the six-foot-two, 293-pound native of Sherwood Park, who was drafted fourth overall by Ottawa in 2018. “We’ve just got a really good mix of people to coach this camp that are putting on a special opportunity for everybody.”
One that never would have made itself available had COVID-19 not shut down football at every level, from high school on up, this year.
“Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to replace the experience of playing high-school football,” Korte said. “But what an alternative to take some of the best players in the province, take coaches from the professional level and the college level and basically create our own little high-school football season and practise against each other.
“I think it’s a really unique opportunity for kids to be a part of and I think it’s a great service that Morris and the U of A have put together.”
It’s hard not to look at the crop of young talent assembled and wonder about the next up-and-comers, especially with the spotlight shining brightly on some Edmonton products blazing a trail to some of the biggest NCAA Div. 1 schools, including Oklahoma State University’s Chuba Hubbard and Clemson’s Ajou Ajou.
“It’s amazing to see the talent that’s come out of Canada, in general, and especially out of Edmonton,” Korte said. “One guy’s a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and he’s going to be a high pick in the NFL, and the other guy’s starting out and looking really good at Clemson; playing in top-notch NCAA schools and performing really well there.
“So, it’s really impressive to see how far Edmonton football’s come, and it’s interesting to go there with high-school football players and see who’s next and who’s at the top of the heap of a pretty good athletic class that going to come out of this city.”
And it’s equally as interesting recognizing some of his younger self in certain young athletes.
“It’s always fun when coaching to kind of see kids that remind you of yourself and remind you of other players you’ve seen be successful. Justin Lawrence is one for me,” Korte said of his fellow Spruce Grove product and former Bears teammate, now with the Calgary Stampeders. “It’s like, ‘Man, this kid reminds me of Justin in a lot of good ways.’ And to be able to interact with some of the kids who play in Spruce Grove is pretty cool, to be able to see a guy that stood where I did a few years ago is pretty neat.”
In his own ongoing development as a player, Korte took big steps last season rising to the rank of starting left tackle in Ottawa – the position he played in university, but one that often falls on Americans in the CFL.
And he says he’s doing as much learning of his own as he is coaching with the Elite 80 camps.
“It’s really cool to work with a guy like Tim Prinsen and Chris Morris,” he said of the former Edmonton Football Club offensive linemen coaching at the camps. “Guys I grew up watching and I got to learn under them as a player, and now I get to work with them and really understand their process. And A.J. Gass, he’s an awesome force to learn from and see how he coaches. They were all top-notch players and now have continued that same excellence coaching. There’s a lot of (Grey Cup) rings floating around that dome on Saturdays and Sundays.”
And while Korte is preparing to resuming what all signs point to being a nice, long playing career, it’s never too early to think about what could lie beyond.
“It’s really good to get into some coaching now and kind of stay connected to that football piece,” he said of what’s turned into an extended off-season. “Like a lot of guys, I stayed ready all through the summer and then when if officially got cancelled, I wanted to look at career-development stuff and maybe work on my post-football life a little bit.
“Hopefully, I’m still around in the CFL when some of these guys that I’m coaching now eventually make it up to that level. I’m sure some of them will.”
The season aside, 2020 has smiled on Korte, who got engaged early in the year before watching one of his best friends get picked up by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
“I’ve been fortunate to find those silver linings. Happily engaged still, thankfully,” said Korte, who proposed to Tianna Hedge before COVID-19 changed the world. “And it’s great to watch Carter (O’Donnell) go through being a rookie in the NFL, it’s really fun to keep tabs on him. And things seem to keep getting better every time I check back on him. The sky’s the limit for him.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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