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National Capital Amateur Football Association
National Capital Amateur Football Association

Gittens' road to MOC nomination one of growth and gratitude

By NCAFA, 11/12/22, 10:30PM EST


Gittens' road to MOC nomination one of growth and gratitude


Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.’s road to being nominated for the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Canadian began in a different country and later with flags instead of pads. 

Born in Guyana, Gittens Jr. moved to Canada when he was nine-years-old, starting a new life alongside his family in Ottawa. It was there that he found and fell in love with football. 

"I really started with flag football, just because I was fast and it was a new area for me," the 25-year-old Gittens told TSN. 

"So it (football) was kind of a way for me to meet some friends. One of my buddies played for the Cumberland Panthers (a team in the National Capital Amateur Football Association), and he was like, 'Man, you should come on and try,' because I'm fast. And I liked [the] touch football that we played together in elementary school, so then I asked my pops, and he said, 'Yeah. If that's what you want to do, you can go ahead and try it.' And ever since then I just kind of fell in love with the game of football." 

Gittens' new-found love of football led him to Wilfred Laurier University, where he starred as a wide receiver and returner for the Golden Hawks. And while Gittens received offers to stay closer to home, he jumped at the opportunity to head to Waterloo, Ont., to learn more about football and himself. 

"One hundred per cent I wouldn't change [a] thing, to be honest with you," said Gittens on leaving home. "It allows you to grow on your own, grow into the person that you want to be. You're not always gonna have your parents around always for help. Sometimes you got to just figure stuff out on your own. And I feel like living away from my parents for those years allowed me to grow into the person that I am trying to become." 

After spending four seasons as a Golden Hawk (2015-18), Gittens left the program as the leading receiver in school history. He caught 200 balls in 31 regular season games and scored 15 touchdowns. During the 2017 season, fresh off a Yates Cup title in 2016, Gittens caught a USPORTS-record 75 passes for 953 yards in eight games and was named the Ontario University Athletics' MVP.   

"It really taught me [that] if I really love this that I'm putting in the work that I need to put in," said Gittens reflecting on what he learned about his game at Laurier.  "It just allowed me just to grow as [an] overall football player because I had to work there as well [and] still find time to train and stuff. So it was a really, really good experience overall for my growth as a football player." 

Gittens was selected by the Argonauts with the 23rd overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft as he embarked on yet another transition in his football life. He moved from a college town to the bright lights of Toronto and BMO Field. He credits his girlfriend for making the move so seamless. 

"My girlfriend, she's from Vaughan. So she's kind of like familiar with the Toronto area, which I wasn't at the time," said Gittens. "And so for me, I knew like, obviously, Toronto's big city and I love the game of football and I don't want my focus to be taken away just because it's a big city. So for me, I decided to get an apartment in Vaughan and just kind of commute from there and have my girlfriend there as well. [She kept me] focused and at the time we were expecting a baby and whatnot. So all in all it worked out." 

Gittens finished his rookie season with the Argonauts having played in 13 games, but he seldom saw the ball as he made one reception for 10 yards. As he geared up for a breakout sophomore season with the Boatmen, the COVID pandemic derailed his chance to do exactly that. However, his focus didn't waver. 

"Obviously, there's no football but in my mind, I was still training like the season was coming," said Gittens on the cancelled 2020 season. "I didn't take like a month off or whatever. I was still doing things that I needed to do and I stayed focused. I had faith, I trusted the process; I trusted God and everything. So for me, it was just keeping my head down and just working and hoping there's going to be brighter days ahead. And when those days come, and if my opportunity did come that I'll be prepared for it." 

Gittens took those opportunities and ran with them in 2021, as he made 50 receptions for 226 yards and four touchdowns and led the Argonauts in yards with 74 in their loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Eastern Final.

The 2022 campaign saw Gittens nearly double his receiving yards with 1,101 yards on the season. He became the fourth Canadian pass-catcher to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season in the last decade. His efforts saw him be named the East Division's nominee for the Most Outstanding Canadian Award alongside BC Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke from the West Division. 

Of the many reasons for Gittens' MOC-worthy breakout season, he credits the additions of former Hamilton Tiger-Cat Brandon Banks and former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Andrew Harris as well as the rest of his teammates. 

"It's great to be with those guys (Banks and Harris) because it elevates your game. So, and not just those guys too. So we have Eric Rogers, DaVaris Daniels and the whole receiving core. Those guys are pretty much established. So when you have great players around you, it just tends to elevate your game to the next level. So I was lucky to be in the position that I am that I'm in right now." 

And while Gittens is flattered and humbled by the nomination, he admits he has bigger goals for this season: a Grey Cup. 

"All the hard work I've been putting them for the last like, not even like two years or last year, just all the work I've done in my whole life, it's just a good feeling to be acknowledged for an award like that," said Gittens.  

"And also, none of that would have happened without the guys around me and the stuff I've been through... It would mean something just because of everything I've been through. But there's also bigger goals than that...You can tap yourself on the back and say, 'good job,' but the work doesn't stop. If anything, it'll just motivate me to be better and to strive for more."