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‘Who is this kid?’ Inside journey of Steelers’ Chase Claypool, from Canada to NFL record books



PITTSBURGH — Before Chase Claypool scored four touchdowns in a single football game, he scored 10 in a game.

He probably would have scored more too, if Khul Sanghera hadn’t limited his touches.

“He didn’t touch the ball a lot, but when he did, he made the best of it,” said Sanghera, who coached Claypool for six seasons in the community football league in Abbotsford, British Columbia. “He gave everything, every drop of Chase that game. That was special.”

To keep other players — and their parents — happy, Sanghera had to walk a fine line between managing and developing the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ future second-round pick and showing good sportsmanship to his own team and opponents.

But when the 10-year-old Claypool got the ball in his hands, things just happened. He couldn’t help it.

“The plan was not for him to score 10 touchdowns,” his mom, Jasmine, said. “The plan was for him to get a first down so we could keep driving down the field. There were other players that were on the field. It’s not like he was the only player on the field. But they’d throw to him in those critical situations at third or fourth down, and he’d score a touchdown. It wasn’t intentional: ‘Hey we’re going to rub your nose in all these touchdowns.’ You’re not going to tell him, ‘Don’t score. Just get a first down.'”

Like Sanghera’s game plan, the Steelers are still targeting Claypool on third down, and even though the difficulty level has increased tenfold, he’s still scoring touchdowns. Last Sunday, in just his fourth game in the NFL, Claypool, 22, scored four touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles, two of which came on third-and-long. He might have had another too, if not for an offensive pass interference call. Even so, he was the first rookie in NFL history to catch three touchdown passes and run for another.

“It brought us back to that game,” said Jacob Carvery, 27, Claypool’s stepbrother, of watching Sunday’s four-touchdown performance. “He’s making this look so easy.”

But nothing about Claypool’s journey to the NFL was easy. Coming from Canada, Claypool had to prove he wasn’t just regionally good but good enough to make it in the States. And even though he was a muscular 6-foot-4 with the speed and finesse of a much smaller receiver, he had to work hard to catch the attention of American college recruiters.

With the help of a tight-knit football community, Claypool made the improbable leaps from community football in British Columbia to Notre Dame to the NFL, becoming one of 114 Canadians to make an NFL roster.

“I feel like there’s so many athletes in America that have played this sport since they were four or five years old,” Carvery said, “that what’s the point to look into Canada? I get that, but there are some amazing athletes over here, and it’s so amazing to see Chase do so well.

“It gives a lot of kids from Canada hope to one day do the same.”

The first time Claypool handed his mom the registration sheet for community football, she put it on the bottom of a stack of papers and hoped he’d forget about it.

Though her 7-year-old son was already stronger than most kids his age — his stepfather, Palmer Carvery, remembers seeing him with abs at 3 years old — Jasmine was worried about him playing a rough sport, so she conveniently let the registration deadline pass without submitting the paperwork.

Claypool didn’t let that happen the next year.

He suited up for the Abbotsford Falcons and quickly put his mom’s fears to rest.

“I was like, ‘Wow, he’s not getting hit at all. He’s pretty fast. Maybe this isn’t so bad,'” she said.

Claypool’s team was a juggernaut, playing in the Provincial Finals — the equivalent of a state championship — five times. They didn’t always win, but Claypool almost always dominated.

“He was an anomaly as a child from Day 1,” said Chel Sanghera, Khul’s wife and vice president of the Fraser Valley Football Community Association. “My husband would say, ‘I’d call a play, and then Chase would do something I wouldn’t think. I thought he’d only get this far and then he’d be at the end zone already.'”

Claypool supplemented his community football practices with sessions learning from Carvery, five years his senior, in grassy patches around their home. A compact, athletic receiver, Carvery was a stellar athlete, and he taught Claypool the shifty skills and underneath routes he used in his own game. Claypool emulated the 5-foot-10 Carvery and quickly mastered the skill set of a slot receiver, something he continued even as he hit a growth spurt that shot him up by a foot in 10th grade.

“That’s the best thing you could possibly have being that big, tall receiver,” Carvery said. “Most of those guys are jump-ball or deep-ball threats. Catch the ball and go down or make one move and get tackled.

“To be able to make a drag route as a 6-4 receiver and still make people miss and get a first down pretty much any time he touches a ball is something to say. It’s incredibly hard to do at that size.”

After community football, Claypool continued to develop in high school at Abbotsford Secondary, where he switched from Canadian Rules to American, and the coaching staff, led by Jay Fujimura and offensive coordinator Teague Funk, kept him on the field almost constantly as a receiver and strong safety. In 12 games, Claypool racked up 1,473 receiving yards and 18 touchdown catches. In all, he had 2,519 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns, plus three touchdown throws. He was also tied for the team lead with 74 tackles and five interceptions.

“You can’t dream of having a player that good, and then he shows up,” Funk said. “So you just kind of give him the ball in as many ways as possible and let him do his thing. Let him be the athlete that he is.”

Even with so much success in community and high school football, it took a Facebook post and a prayer to put Chase on the radar of American football programs.

Chel, affectionately known as “Mama Chel” to players and parents in community football, recognized Claypool’s rare talent and posted dozens of highlight videos on her Facebook page with the hope of catching the attention of someone to further his football career.

“My biggest thing was, I used to pray to the universe: ‘Universe. somebody come and find him,'” Chel said.

At the same time, Carvery was playing football for Eddie Ferg, who founded Air Raid Academy and coached a 7-on-7 team. He constantly told Ferg about his little stepbrother and bugged his coach to take a look. While he made his own highlight compilations on YouTube, Carvery encouraged his younger brother to do the same.

“[We were] just some Canadian kids trying to make it,” Carvery said.

Eventually, the universe listened, and when Claypool was a high school junior, Ferg came across one of Chel’s videos on Facebook.

“I was literally scrolling through,” Ferg said. “I want to say it was him returning a punt, so I clicked on her link. He had a punt return for a touchdown, an interception for a touchdown playing free safety, and he had a huge tackle. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’

“I’ve never seen a kid of that size move that well. He looked like an absolute giant on the film. He was over 6-foot-2, but he moved like he was 5-foot-9.”

From there, a combination of Chel’s video, Carvery’s connection and Ferg’s friendship with Funk led Ferg to take Claypool under his wing. Claypool joined Ferg’s Air Raid Academy and started traveling to tournaments in the United States.

“Once he got the exposure down there, it was like, ‘Who is this monster from Canada? Where did he come from?'” Carvery said. “It was just getting his name out there initially, just getting the exposure to even get looked at from America. It’s very challenging from Canada.”

Ferg also distributed his highlights to coaching connections at Division I programs.

Less than 24 hours after Ferg sent the first tape out to a coach at Nevada, Claypool had a scholarship offer. Word about Claypool spread quickly in coaching circles as Ferg got his videos in front of more coaches. Letters and phone calls poured in and offers soon followed. Claypool got his first offer early in 2015, and by that summer, he’d committed to Notre Dame.

“When big schools are calling, asking what he’s like and asking for everything that you know about him, and then, you know, a couple hours later they’re offering, it’s just pretty amazing,” Ferg said. “Because you see somebody’s dreams becoming a reality.”

It wasn’t an easy transition to Notre Dame, where the talent level was leaps and bounds from that in British Columbia. After primarily playing special teams his first season, Claypool steadily picked up steam until his senior season, when he scored 13 touchdowns and had 1,037 receiving yards.

Enamored with his 4.42 speed and 80-inch wingspan, the Steelers, known for their prowess in drafting wide receivers outside of the first round such as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, selected him with their first pick in the 2020 draft, No. 49 overall. His physicality and willingness to block and play on special teams had put him even higher on the organization’s draft board, and the Steelers thought he’d probably be gone by the time they picked.

“I was really excited when he ran a sub-4.4 at the combine, and I don’t get excited because boy, you just assume you’re probably not going to get to him at 49,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said in April.

But the Steelers did, and he fit in right away.

Though adjusting to NCAA Division I football was difficult at first, it set the foundation for a smoother start to his professional career. With four receiving touchdowns, he already ranks eighth among Canadian NFL players, and he’s rushed for another.

“You know, it wasn’t a huge jump,” Claypool said, “in terms of playbook and then speed of the game. I adjusted pretty, pretty quickly to that.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic making it next to impossible for Claypool’s family and support system to travel from British Columbia to see any part of his rookie season in person, they found another way to be on the sideline.

Every week, family and friends enter the Steelers’ Virtual Sideline Experience giveaway, where they can win a chance to watch warm-ups from a camera on the field via Zoom.

Jasmine’s sister-in-law won for the Week 3 game against the Texans.

Decked out in Steelers gear, the family gathered at her house and watched as Claypool and his teammates stretched, and they shouted excitedly when coach Mike Tomlin and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster walked over to the cameras and waved.

But Claypool never came by.

“I gave him heck,” Jasmine said. “He said he noticed it at the end, but it was too late, and he was running off after the warm-up.”

But even if his family didn’t get to see him that day, he saw them. The whole group appeared doing a pre-recorded cheer on the video board during a fourth-and-1 play.

With the stellar start to Claypool’s professional career, it’s a good bet his family will get a chance to cheer him on in person someday.

“He was like ‘Yeah, I looked up and was like, hold up? Is that my family? I think my family is up there,'” Jacob Carvery said. “It’s really, really cool to be a part of it.

“For us to miss his first game and stuff like that is heartbreaking. But we are so freaking proud of what he has done, who he has become, what football has made him into.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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