By Perry Lefko

It took awhile, but Orillia businessman Hank Ilesic can finally say he’s made it, specifically, into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame

The 59-year-old Edmonton native, who owns and operates Gridiron High Performance, was formally inducted in September. He became only the second punter to receive the distinction. Bob Cameron, who was drafted by the Eskimos in 1977 but starred for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was inducted in 2003.

Ilesic starred for the Eskimos during their run of winning five consecutive Grey Cups between 1978-82. The first came when he was only 18 years old. Collectively, he played on seven Grey Cup-winning teams before retiring in 2005, after 19 seasons in the Canadian Football League.

“I guess I was surprised to be inducted,” he said. “Obviously you’re honoured. A lot of people told me it was coming.”

Ilesic’s contribution to that Eskimos’ dynasty had been well documented. His booming punts gave the team a competitive edge because the opposing offence routinely had to start deep on their side of the field.

“That was quite the team in Edmonton,” he said. “That will never happen again. You could not assemble a team of that quality in today’s standards because of the salary cap.”

He is using his skills to coach young kickers, working part-time with Football North, a high school football academy in Mississauga that is now in its third season. He also works or has worked with several university kickers and punters, including Christopher MacLean of the University of Toronto, Loic Legendre of the University of Ottawa, Marc Liegghio of the University of Western Ontario and Gabe Ferraro of the University of Guelph.

He moved to Orillia a few years ago after tearing both of his quadriceps while teaching aspiring kickers. He journeyed to Orillia to rehab with some friends who had a clinic and that led to him to start a business in the area. He took a negative situation, a serious injury, and turned it into a positive by using it to open a business.

“It just made sense to set up a high-performance centre since I was already spending so much time up here,” he said.

Ilesic had previous experience owning a pizza franchise in Mississauga, which he sold about nine years ago and had been taking courses in high-performance training and earning certification in fitness and nutrition. The centre, which opened two years ago, is the only one in the area offering this specific type of training, which does not include weights. Membership is by invitation only.

“My members wonder why I never did this before,” he said. “We consider conventional training as being recreation. Our training is very specific. We get our clients freaky strong. I’m in better shape now than when I played. We get high performance athletes and anybody who wants to be challenged. For anybody who is competitive, our type of training is perfect for that.”

One of his clients is Orillia native, Tobias Whelan, who played centre for the Oshawa Generals from 2000-2004, then, at Lakehead University and, professionally, with the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League. After developing hip problems that required surgery and lacking the motivation to train, he was advised by a friend to contact Ilesic.

“Hank’s got his own way and he’s intimidating for sure, but I liked the gym in the sense that there’s no weights – there’s bands and tires and different stuff like that,” Whelan said. “I started there about a year and a half ago and hadn’t worked out in a year since my hip surgery. Hank didn’t ease me in as I’ve seen him ease other people in from getting right into the exercises and what he was throwing at me. He cleaned up my diet and he continues to change things and clean it up even more.

“Just when you think you’ve got (the exercises) figured out he gives you something different. I liked the fact he pushes you in that sense and I liked that it wasn’t traditional weightlifting. The philosophy that worked well for me is that it was two days a week, needing time for your muscles to recover so that you are getting peak performance out of them the next time. I was always like a five-day-a-week guy and, now, with three kids and coaching hockey and work and everything else and to go in for an hour two days a week is not much to ask in order to keep my physical fitness where I want it to be.”

Photo: Hank Ilesic, left, shaking hands with former Edmonton Eskimos’ teammate Dave Cutler. Canadian Football Hall of Fame photo

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