Abbotsford Panthers star Haidyn Vermeulen (right) celebrates his signing with the Alberta Golden Bears football program along with his mother Niki Vermeulen and father Dan Vermeulen on Monday. (Submitted)

Abbotsford Panthers star Haidyn Vermeulen (right) celebrates his signing with the Alberta Golden Bears football program along with his mother Niki Vermeulen and father Dan Vermeulen on Monday. (Submitted)

Abbotsford’s Haidyn Vermeulen signs with Alberta Golden Bears

Grade 12 Abby Senior student joining Edmonton-based football program in 2021

Connecting with his new coaches and teammates via Zoom isn’t exactly how Abbotsford Panthers football star Haidyn Vermeulen envisioned signing day, but in 2020 it’s the best one can hope for.

The Grade 12 Abbotsford Senior Secondary Student announced his commitment to the University of Alberta Golden Bears football program for 2021 on Monday afternoon.

Football across Canada hasn’t occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it difficult for Grade 12 athletes to showcase their skills. It’s been challenging for school sports at the high school and university level, but Vermeulen attracted considerable attention as a Grade 11 last year and said he’s happy to head to Edmonton next fall.

RELATED: VIDEO: Haidyn Vermeulen junior season highlights

“The close to home aspect was big for me,” he said. “And also Alberta being an overall great school for both football and academics.”

The team finished 4-4 in U Sports play in 2019 and advanced to the Canada West semi-finals. The program last won the Hardy Cup (CW championship) in 1981 and last earned the Vanier Cup in 1980.

Vermeulen, who played linebacker on defence and running back on offence for the Panthers, admitted that despite signing with Alberta no one still knows if football will be played in 2021.

RELATED: Abbotsford football teams head to postseason

“Honestly I don’t know what will be happening next and at this point neither do they,” he said. “So it’s pretty much just seeing what happens.”

The pandemic likely cost Vermeulen the opportunity to play south of the border, as last year teams from Montana and other American programs expressed interest in taking him on. He possesses the size (6-2, 220) and skill to excel at the next level according to many scouts.

“It really hurt a lot of my chances,” he said. “I couldn’t get the exposure or go down to camps this year.”

He added that Alberta was receptive to the possibility of helping him with a transfer if an opportunity presents itself to go to an American school.

Despite all the COVID-19 related issues, Vermeulen said he’s excited to return to the gridiron and wants to help Alberta

“I describe myself as just a very aggressive player,” he said. “I also have a pretty high IQ for the game because I’ve been playing for so long.”

He also praised Panthers head coach Jay Fujimura in helping him to develop.

“His coaching style really helped me,” he said. “He doesn’t allow guys to waste time in practice and is just a great overall coach. He helped me develop in the weight room and on the field.”

RELATED: Abbotsford football teams continue playoff drives

Vermeulen, who also played youth football for the Abbotsford Falcons, said playing university football is a childhood dream come true. He noted he first hit the field with the Falcons at the tender age of six.

The Golden Bears are tentatively scheduled to return to the field for exhibition games next August.

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