For a football team on the outside looking in, Yann Dika-Balotoken provides that certain je ne sais quoi to garner success.
Leaside High gained his talent on the defensive side of ball during his senior year, and in the end saw a South Region title and City final appearance.
His strong gridiron skills, along with strong academics, impressed coach Jim Georgiadis.
“He obviously brought a lot of intelligence to the team as well as a lot of athleticism, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Originally from Brie-Comte-Robert, France, Dika-Balotoken moved to Toronto in July 2007. However, he didn’t start attending Leaside until this year, transferring from Don Mills to attend French immersion classes.
North American-style Football was new to him but he caught on fast after initiation.
“A couple of friends were talking to me about how they played football during the summer plus the NFL season starts in September,” he said. “I started watching the games and I realized it looked like a fun game.”
His next pursuit was Scarborough Thunder where they started him at halfback.
“I didn’t know anything about football and they told me I should play running back because it is a good starting position,” he recalled, adding once he moved to Leaside, Georgiadis moved the 5’6” rusher to defensive back.
Shadowing six-foot receivers may sound like a tall order, but the Lancers bench boss had his reasons for placing Dika-Balotoken in such a position.
“He’s got that ability to be able to cover an inside receiver who is 6-foot-2,” Georgiadis said. “He just seems to be in the right spot at the right time with great technique and athleticism.
“He can out-jump anybody.”
And Dika-Balotoken is all about giving rather than receiving.
“I like defence better in a way that instead of the one being hit, I’m the one delivering the hits,” he said. “Because I played running back when I started football and I realized I was the target.”
Georgiadis’ move proved a wise decision as the grade 12 won defensive player of the year for Leaside, and his skills on special teams led to his possession of top honours in that role.
“When you have guys like that on the team, obviously guys tend to lean on him a little bit more — he excepts that responsibility, but also he raises the level of the guys around him,” Georgiadis said.
Dika-Balotoken has no regrets regarding his transfer to Leaside.
The South Region final against Central Tech Blues was his crowning achievement. Meeting a school of almost 2,000 students when you’re at 900 can be daunting but Leaside came out on top 17-12.
“Apparently we were the underdogs as East York and Central Tech had been winning (the South) for years,” he said. “People thought we wouldn’t win.”
Dika-Balotoken and company certainly lanced that infectious thought.