Michael Klassen is giving back in a rather unique way.

The former CFL player has launched an unconventional scholarship contest through his company, strEATS, a Calgary-based restaurant chain. The promotion, dubbed, “strEAT Cred,” is offering entrants a chance to win a $5,000 prize.

The event is open to those students pursuing a postsecondary education in Canada – excluding Quebec as strEATs doesn’t yet have restaurants in the province. Entrants provide video submissions regarding why they feel they should receive the top prize. The more creative the message, the better.

“We pride ourselves on serving a younger demographic,” Klassen said. “We’re after students, we’re after the young millennials, that’s who we want in our stores.

“That’s kind of the vibe and atmosphere we’ve created in the various strEATS locations. We wanted to do this to give back while at the same time doing something fun with it.”

The contest is in its second phase with the number of eligible submissions having been reduced to 20. The top-15 were based upon votes, with the final five being random selections.

Voting on the remaining 20 will be conducted until Oct. 31 on the strEATS website (www.streats.ca). The winning submission will be announced Nov. 1.

The contest isn’t limited to students pursuing a career in the food industry.

“No, they don’t have to be going to culinary school or anything like that,” Klassen said. “We’ve opened it right up.

“It [school] all costs money so how can we be of help? The program puts us on the radar a bit more and also we can help people out.”

Klassen said the scholarship was something strEATS had worked on for over a year. Initially, the thought was to launch it last spring before the decision was made to do so when students were heading back to school.

Klassen, a Calgary native, played seven CFL seasons as a defensive lineman with Montreal (2013-2016), the Stampeders (2017) and Ottawa (2018-2019) after being selected in the fourth round, No. 32 overall, in the 2013 draft.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Klassen registered 108 tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles in 87 career CFL games. Upon retirement, the former Calgary Dinos player moved back to Alberta.

Klassen, 32, began working with strEATS in 2017 and opened his own location in April 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic had hit Canada. To date, strEATS has establishments in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Ontario that specialize in street-style food like tacos, rice bowls, fish and chips and poutine.

Klassen said life after football hasn’t been nearly as taxing physically, but has been every bit as busy with its own levels of stress and anxiety.

“Football was very busy, obviously,” he said. “You’re go, go, go for six months and work every day but then you kind of get a bit of a break in winter and spring where your most pressing things are getting to the gym and maybe an appointment every week with your chiropractor.

“Now, it’s busy all day, every day but it’s a different kind of grind. You’re not necessarily getting beat up on a daily basis, but I’d say there’s just as much stress, a bit more anxiety as well with projects coming up.

“But it’s nothing compared to what I went through preparing for a game. I mean, I’d barely talk before a game because I’d get so nervous and some nights I’d have trouble sleeping, all of those fun things.”

Klassen’s home life has changed, too, as he and his wife have two young boys, aged two and two months.

“It (parenthood) can cause you added stress and anxiousness,” Klassen said. “But at the same time you have this beautiful being you created who’s amazing and nothing but fun.”

Klassen envisions a new and improved version of the strEAT Cred program being launched in 2024.

“It’s all about tweaking,” he said. “Marketing is one giant science experiment, you never quite know.

“You can think something is going to work amazingly and just like the strEAT Cred scholarship, I think there’s a lot of things we can fine-tune for next year when we launch it again.”