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New Edmonton training gym headed by one-time CFL all-star aims to open up opportunities for young athletes

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A former fearsome football rush end is now tackling training a new generation of Edmonton athletes.

Odell Willis, a two-time all-star Canadian Football League sack machine who won a Grey Cup with Edmonton in 2015, is heading up Athletes Compound.

His key word for the programs he runs out of the southside sports training facility geared towards young athletes: Opportunity.

"My goal is to basically give athletes the opportunity that they've been missing out on, especially in football," said Willis, who terrorized CFL quarterbacks for 13 years playing defensive end with six different teams. "I feel like a lot of these kids up here can play down in the States at a high level — at a Division 1, Division 1AA, Division 2 — but I just felt like they aren't getting opportunities or the right navigation they needed to get to where they need to be.”

Willis’ “one-stop shop" is for more than just football players, however — Athletes Compound caters to athletes in hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball and lacrosse, too.

Services for physiotherapy, massage, rehab and mental health awareness are also available through the facility.

"As an athlete, that's what you want,” Willis said. “You don't want to have to come work out then drive all the way back across town just to get some treatment or your rehab. You can come here and get film breakdown, you can get mental health awareness because at the end of the day, it's not all about what you are in the field, it's about your well-being as an athlete off the field as well."

For 17-year-old Twayne Bingham, who’s been playing football since he was five years old and dreams of playing the game professionally, the training he’s received is unlike anything he’s done before.

“He’s helped me believe in myself,” Bingham said. “He’s already done it, he’s been there, he knows what it takes and he’s seen people fall out, he’s seen people make it and he knows what to help us avoid.”

Athletes Compound has been open for almost two months on 67 Avenue just off 99 Street, and already athletes training there have been getting notice, with two local football players receiving offers this summer from Tuskegee University, an NCAA Division 2 school.

"I tell them if they 'ball,' I can make the call," said Willis, adding that five other football players are on the Alabama school's radar. "That's my thing: to get kids more opportunity besides just going to the (local junior football) Huskies or the Wildcats or the U of A. No disrespect to any of them, but I just feel like if these kids can play, why limit ourselves to just U Sports (in Canada)? Why can't they go down to the States and play on the biggest stage and get some leads and ideas and things of that nature?"

Athletes Compound is holding a grand opening event on Saturday from 12-4 p.m. with free food and drinks as well as past and present Edmonton Elks players in attendance. Address: 9938 67 Ave. NW

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson and Galen McDougall 

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