York University Lions football player Jacob Janke was named the recipient of the U SPORTS Russ Jackson Award on Nov. 21 as the national award winners and all-Canadians were celebrated at the annual Vanier Cup gala.
Janke is the first-ever York recipient of the national award, which is given to the football player who best exemplifies the attributes of academic achievement, football skill and citizenship. He also earned second-team all-Canadian honours after a tremendous season on the field. He is the first York football player to win a U SPORTS major award since Jeff Johnson was the rookie of the year in 1996, and he is the first all-Canadian since 2004.
On the field, Janke achieved Ontario University Athletics (OUA) first team all-star honours thanks to a breakthrough season in which he racked up 34 total tackles, four tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, once sack, one fumble recovery and three pass breakups. His array of skills caught the eye of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who selected him in the fourth round (35th overall) in the 2019 CFL Draft.
Beyond the sidelines, Janke is a true leader for the Lions program. He is the co-founder of Tiny Strides, a non-profit organization that he and three teammates launched to service underprivileged youth in the community. Janke credits football with enabling him to get to where he is and he is passionate about his belief that sport can help children reach their potential. With Tiny Strides, he is ensuring that kids in need will have the same opportunities that he was afforded. The grassroots organization offers financial assistance for registration fees and equipment, in addition to providing a mentorship program where Janke serves as a relatable role model for children.
In the summer of 2019, he spent a week working with almost 200 kids at a Toronto refugee shelter, introducing them to sport-specific programming to help them deal with the upheaval they had experienced. Janke still visits the children and Tiny Strides was able to host 100 of them at York homes games this season. The organization has also put on football clinics with the York Region Lions, a local junior football program, in addition to offering a free football day for children to experience the sport. Janke has done speaking engagements and is constantly working on fundraising projects that enable Tiny Strides to make an impact in the community.
“Jacob is the epitome of what we want our York Lions football players to be like. He excels in all three pillars of the core of what a student-athlete should be,” said York head coach Warren Craney. “He is a three-time team captain, a dominant free safety, a diligent student with a clear focus on his future career path and a tremendous role model for youth in our community. I am confident he will be successful whether he is on the field with the Saskatchewan Roughriders or in an office on Bay Street. I am so proud of him.”
The Lions’ veteran doesn’t allow the massive commitment to football and philanthropy to negatively affect his work in the classroom. Janke is a commerce major specializing in finance. He has already completed three summer internships at the Bay Street firm Waypoint Investment Partners, where he has served as a public equity analyst. Janke has continued to work with the company in a part-time capacity throughout the school year, showing the enduring work ethic that is mandatory for any Russ Jackson Award winner.