Film nights, bison meat and a nice fadeaway: Noah Zerr's Yorkton journey to the CFL Draft

Looking at CFL prospect Noah Zerr, it’s not hard to tell what profession he decided to pursue from an early age.

The 6’7, 330-pound offensive lineman towers over his peers, and has for nearly his entire life. It wasn’t the football field though where the coaches of the Yorkton Regional High School Raider Gridders football program first caught a glimpse at the Langenburg product, it was the basketball court.

“He was probably at about, Grade 6 or Grade 7. He's a big tall kid. Usually the kids just, kind of go two feet from the hoop, get the ball, miss three or four times until eventually it goes in. All the other kids were jumping up, while they got that big height advantage. Noah was a little different. He got the ball, [dropped a] 10 footer, kind of did a little pivot. A little Kobe Bryant fade away, the ball goes in and I'm like, ‘Wow, the big man can move!’ — we got to get this guy,” Raider Gridders co-head coach, Jason Boyda told CTV News.

Boyda isn’t just a coach to Zerr.

As high school approached, it was clear to the Zerr’s that Noah would have to move away from his hometown if he was going to pursue professional football. The town of around 1,100 simply didn’t have the quality of football that a Yorkton-sized centre could offer for Zerr.

Noah’s dad, Rob, knows all about the journey to higher-level football. He played three seasons in the early-1980s with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football program.

So the family made a choice to send their son an hour away to Yorkton and to live with Coach Boyda and his family of four, which turned into a family of five once the big man packed his bags and moved in.

“They wanted what was best for Noah,” Boyda said. “He had lots of opportunities to go pretty much anywhere — out east, they got football academies and all that kind of stuff. His mom's a teacher. I'm a teacher. So we have a relationship, we have a connection. And the thing is, I have a son. And those two became kind of like brothers instantly. (Zerr) basically just became part of our family.”

From Zerr’s standpoint, he said he doesn’t know if he’d be in the shoes he is in today if not for the generosity of the Boyda family.

“He took me in. I billeted with him for three years in high school and he kind of showed me everything I needed to know about football. He’s a really great coach, a really great man and he taught me a lot of valuable lessons about how to be a good teammate, how to be a good football player and how to be good man and I owe him a lot. His entire family just welcomed me in, with open arms,” Zerr said Saturday, following the annual Football Night in Saskatchewan event with Yorkton Minor Football.

There, Zerr spoke to the crowd and thanked the entire coaching staff, with an added emphasis on coach Boyda.

“I will forever be grateful for him, taking me in and creating a home away from home, as I was just nervous kid starting a new adventure. Coach Boyda was a huge mentor to me, especially when I was missing home. We'd watch film together break down plays and go through old playbooks. Through these experiences my understanding and appreciation for the game grew more and more,” he said during his speech.

Boyda said watching Zerr speak, he saw how much the lineman had grown up during his six years with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

It made him emotional.

“My heart got really super warm, and my eyes started watering up,” Boyda recalled. “It really hit home [I thought], ‘Oh, you gotta be tough. Gotta be tough, you can’t cry in front of everyone.’ It means a lot. It means the world. I can’t describe it with words, to be honest with you, to give it justice.”

Looking back at the time they spent together during high school, Boyda said Zerr showed him a different side of the towering lineman. He said he enjoys drama, they spent time making Halloween costumes together for school dances and the family and Zerr had fun during those three years in Yorkton.

At the same time, feeding a growing offensive lineman was no joke, according to Boyda.

“If you ain't eating, you're not gaining and Noah took it, kind of, to heart,” he said while explaining how the family afforded the increased meal costs.

“One of our former players, they actually have a bison farm. We would have to get bison meat from him and basically, we just got a whole bison.”

Now that the day has come, the pair expects to watch the draft together, this time at the Zerr home. Boyda admitted his bias and said he’d like to see both Zerr and other Yorkton draft hopeful, Peter Kozushka in Saskatchewan Roughriders green and white by nights end.

However, it was a promise from Boyda, after Zerr ended up with the Huskies — wearing his dad’s old number, 60 — that came to fruition a night before the CFL Draft.

“After I watched his very first spring camp I said to him, ‘You know what, you're going pro,’ and he was (a) pretty humble kid, right? He just said, ‘Okay, geez, thanks coach,’ … I'm just hoping that crystal ball prediction is coming true,” Boyda said.

Zerr has officially made it.

TSN’s Farhan Lalji first reported Monday that Zerr had accepted an invite to a mini-camp with the NFL’s New York Giants. Another step in the right direction to playing professional football.

Ahead of Tuesday’s draft and during his Saturday speech, Zerr shared some advice with his peers — a nod to his journey to the bigs.

“Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream — not even hour-long car ride,” he said.

The CFL Draft goes at 6 p.m. Saskatchewan time on Tuesday, May 3 and will be broadcast on TSN.