On a play-action sequence about five minutes into the Calgary Dinos’ first loss of the U Sports football season on Oct. 2, quarterback Josiah Joseph drifted deep into the pocket in his own end zone and fired a perfect 50-yard strike to fourth-year wideout Jalen Philpot.
The pass hit Philpot in stride with loads of room to run, and he took advantage. As a pair of Regina Rams defenders chased him at full speed, Philpot angled toward the right sideline, sprinting hard until a Regina cornerback finally brought him down at the three-yard-line.
That mind-bending sequence tied a school record for longest passing play (107 yards) set by Tyson Philpot, who just happens to be Jalen’s twin brother. And though it came in an at-times ugly loss that tumbled the defending Vanier Cup champs from No. 1 down to No. 3 in the national rankings, it also marked an incremental shift in the Philpot family bragging rights.
“There’s always been a huge rivalry between us,” said Tyson, speaking a few days before. “We’re always at each other’s throats, whether it’s practice or games, always telling each other what we could do better or what we saw on the field.”
They take the stat sheet home after each game, and chirp at each other as brothers do. But it’s a friendly rivalry, the kind of healthy competition that pushes both players to get better by one-upping each other.
“He knows I’ll always be the first one to go celebrate with him when you make a big play, and the same — vice-versa,” Tyson said.
So far, it works. To some observers, the 21-year-olds are already men among boys in Canadian university sport, a pro-ready tandem as deadly as any other pair of receivers in the country.
“They definitely have emerged as the strong leaders of our program,” said Dinos head coach Wayne Harris Jr. “They’re the guys we can rely on, and we see their work ethic every day.”
It doesn’t hurt that their father is Cory Philpot, a former CFL all-star who won a Grey Cup with the B.C. Lions in 1994 and set a single-season touchdown record the following year with 22.
Cory didn’t pressure his sons to play football, but he coached them from age six through part of high school, imparting the kind of wisdom only an elite player can give. Jalen and Tyson picked up many of his habits and mannerisms, as well as an array of intangibles.
Knowledge of game
“They have that knowledge of the game — understanding of the game — that not all players have,” said Harris, a former star linebacker with the Dinos who played four seasons in the CFL in the 1980s.
“They see the field very well. Their recognition of defences and different ways of attacking them, whether it’s a zone or a man, have really come through. It’s not just about being a great athlete, but how well they understand how to get open, and how to attack a defence or a defensive player.”
Despite the loss to Regina, the Dinos are still among the favourites to win the Canada West Conference and possibly contend for another national championship, after winning the Vanier Cup in 2019 (last year’s game was cancelled because of COVID-19.)
Calgary dominated its season opener against Saskatchewan Huskies on Sept. 25, winning 34-20 with phenomenal output by the Philpots and quarterback Joseph.
Jalen had 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns in that game, while Tyson had 155 yards and one touchdown. Regina contained the Philpots to just 260 combined receiving yards the following week and capitalized on a series of Dino mistakes to score 21 points in the second quarter alone.
Among top CFL prospects
The Dinos have Thanksgiving to rest and retool before returning to action Oct. 16 against the Manitoba Bisons. Their hopes of winning another Vanier Cup depend largely on the Philpots, both of whom entered the season among the top 15 Canadian prospects eligible for the CFL Draft.
“It’s definitely going to be, like our coaches tell us, a complete different road to the Vanier Cup than it was two years ago,” Jalen said. “But I think everyone on our team has kind of bought in, and ready to make another run at it, for sure.”
To stay sharp during the cancelled 2020 season, the Philpots redoubled their training efforts, frequently competing against NFL and CFL talent. As a result, the game seemed slower when they returned to U Sports play this autumn. They’re better players, both mentally and physically.
“They’ve shown tremendous improvement,” Harris said. “Always outstanding athletes, but the skills they were bringing, the training they’ve put in, was really showing through.”
Jalen is the higher-ranked CFL prospect at No. 7, and his stats are gaudier. But Tyson, ranked No. 15 prior to the season, is actively trying to close the gap.
“Obviously it’s a good start, but I’m definitely going to work my way up that list,” said Tyson.
His brother, admittedly quieter and more reserved, was also more diplomatic.
“Tyson and I still feel like we’re continuing to evolve and get better as receivers,” Jalen said. “I’d say that’s just the beginning of where we hope to be by the end of this year, for sure.”