Tyson Heather is ready to be an X-man.
The Grade 12 student-athlete at W.H. Croxford High School has inked a letter of intent to join the St. Francis Xavier University football team in Antigonish, N.S. this summer.
“It feels great, especially with St. FX being one of the best academic schools and sport schools, not just for football but for every sport, really,” said Heather. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for me to get exposure for many places in Canada as well.”
The 17-year-old was a three-way player for the Cavaliers during his senior season, playing as a wide receiver, kicker, and on defence as well. While he's capable of playing multiple positions, Heather said he's been signed as a kicker by the X-men.
The high-school senior also played competitive soccer growing up, first with Airdrie FC and then for two years with the Calgary West Soccer Club.
“As of right now, [kicking] is probably more my strong suit because I’ve been doing it my whole football career,” he said, adding he only became a receiver three years ago. “I’ve definitely developed more kicking the ball than receiving the ball.”
In addition to playing for the Croxford Cavaliers the last two years, Heather was also a key player for the Airdrie Raiders U17 team during the spring seasons. Last year, his catching abilities helped the Raiders advance all the way to the Calgary Spring Football Association's Division 1 championship game.
Heather said he hopes to bring a sense of leadership to the X-men, though acknowledged he's always been more about leading by example than barking orders.
“I don’t exactly talk as much as other leaders would, but what I do on the field shows the impact I can have,” he said.
Heather was a captain for the Cavaliers football team during what was the squad's best-ever season last fall.
Croxford started the campaign with a lengthy win streak, and ultimately finished third in the Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) with an 8-2 overall record. Their only two defeats came against the perennially strong Cochrane Cobras, and then the George McDougall Mustangs in the RVSA semi-finals.
The Cavaliers were also ranked in the provincial top 10 among Tier II teams by Football Alberta.
Heather agreed the Cavaliers' growth in competitiveness in recent seasons has helped his and his teammates' prospects when it comes to advancing to the next level, whether that's junior football or a university program.
He's also not the only Grade 12 member of the Cavaliers this season who will be committing to a post-secondary team in eastern Canada. Heather noted his teammate, defensive lineman Khaleel Rahim, has already signed for the St. Mary's University Huskies, who compete in the same Atlantic division as the St. FX X-men. It means the two Croxford graduates could find themselves on opposite sides of the scrimmage next fall.
“Just having Croxford have such a good season, it definitely put our name out there,” Heather said. “We’re a pretty new school, so we aren’t as known in the football community. But being able to beat teams like George Mac and being in competition with Cochrane – those are some big goals for a team. It showed our skills and proved we were the underdogs of Airdrie these past couple of years.”
The head coach of Croxford's football team, Josiah Donahue, called Heather an on-field leader who will bring a versatile set of skills to St. FX next fall.
“Honestly, we’re super excited with him signing there,” he said. “He was a two-year captain for us, coming out of COVID. For us, he started three ways. He was our kicker, our best receiver, and arguably one of our best defensive players as well last year.
“He’s getting signed as a kicker, but the fact is, he has the ability to play almost anything. He’ll be an asset, and we’re excited to see where he goes from here.”
While Heather is the first Cavalier to sign for St. FX, Donahue hinted the football pipeline between the Nova Scotia school and Croxford could continue in the coming years, as multiple members of the Cavaliers coaching staff are alumni of the X-men, including their strength coach, Keegan Bosman.
“So it’s almost like a program that has a link to Airdrie because of their presence here,” he said. “Our girls’ basketball coach Diane Hilko, her husband is actually the special teams coordinator for St. FX, so they have lots of connections to Croxford.
“[Heather] is the first to sign, and we’re hoping to keep building up that relationship as well.”