Matthew Ljuden of Grande Prairie, Alta.’s St. Joseph’s High School was featured on a recent NFL of CTV broadcast highlighting his football skills. Photo by Jenn Labrecque

High school gridiron star earns national spotlight

By 
  • October 6, 2021

Matthew Ljuden still has no clue who submitted his name and highlight tape for consideration in NFL Canada’s Way to Play High School initiative.

The 17-year-old of Grande Prairie, Alta., was in the stands as a spectator watching his friend’s football game when he was tapped on the shoulder by one of his coaches who then showed an action clip of Ljuden aired during an NFL on CTV broadcast late last month.

This honour is bestowed upon players who “exemplify proper playing technique.” The clip in question features Ljuden, an offensive lineman, deftly executing a pancake block to create a seam for his St. Joseph Catholic High School teammates to charge down the field for a touchdown.

“It is so crazy to be on there and it is such an honour,” said Ljuden. “And it’s wonderful to be given the prize money to support the team.”

Recipients of the honour are gifted with a $1,500 equipment grant for their school.

There have been a host of people floating theories over the possible identity of the mysterious nominator.

“I’ve been trying to figure it out but with no success,” laughs Ljuden.

“We have our suspicions and of course the rumour mill goes around,” said his father, Tim. “We have an idea, but no one will admit it. And in some sense, it is exciting to keep it a mystery.”

Attention for Ljuden’s play transcends well beyond just this highlight reel play. The Grade 12 student has received interest from a few Canadian universities for next year.

“It’s a great opportunity to pursue football in the future,” he said. “I know it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s the game I love. To have all this interest is such a good feeling.”

Ljuden, a fan of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Elks, would also embrace pursuing the NFL or CFL down the road.

The proud father is delighted that many doors are opening up for his son.

“It is very humbling and it is quite an honour to see all the recognition that he is receiving,” said Tim. “He has done very well in his short football career. They put him out there for the score and to protect the score, so he succeeds in any position.

“As far as university, we’re very excited that he would get to keep playing the sport he loves as well as the academic component.”

At this juncture, Ljuden envisions pursuing a business degree. But while he has dreams about the future, his focus is very fixated on the present, which explains why he will not make any decisions about next year until later on in the school year. 

His current drive is helping to propel his St. Joseph Celtics to a provincial championship. The Celts have achieved significant team success during Ljuden’s tenure on the team, including a resounding 52-16 win in the Mighty Peace Football League championship — also known as the Peace Bowl Championship — in 2019 over the Grande Prairie Composite High School Warriors.

The team is recognized as a provincial power for the 2021 season as Football Alberta ranked the St. Joseph’s Celtics No.1 in the season-opening rankings for Tier II schools (student body of 750-1,249). The Celtics have lived up to this impressive billing with a 6-0 record to date.

Ljuden keeps striding towards his goals by being committed in the gym on his off days, and by counting on God to help him through this journey. He cherishes that faith is a core component of his team’s dynamic.

“My faith in God is a huge part of my life. I consider myself a spiritual person. Our team prays at games and during practices, and it is nice to have that.”

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