East Meets West
With the CFL's 2009 Canadian Draft in the books, teams have started looking ahead to the Class of 2010, and one of the first stages in that evaluation process took place last week. The annual CIS East West Bowl, a five-day showcase of the top players in Canadian university football, drew scouts from all eight CFL teams to London, Ontario.
While the rosters include players at various stages of their college careers, the vast majority are entering their fourth year, making them eligible for next spring's draft. Receivers and defensive backs garnered much of the attention, led by slotbacks Cory Watson (Concordia) and Josh Bishop (Wilfrid Laurier), wideout Akeem Foster (St. Francis Xavier), and corners Taurean Allen (Wilfrid Laurier) and Cauchy Muamba (St. Francis Xavier).
On the defensive line, end Chima Ihekwoaba (Wilfrid Laurier) turned heads with his incredible athleticism before a hamstring injury limited his participation, while tackle Eddie Steele (Manitoba), who won't be draft eligible until 2011, earned rave reviews for his play all week. Across the line of scrimmage, guard Kristian Matte (Concordia) a technically sound blocker, and 6'8", 305 lbs. tackle Joel Reinders (Waterloo), a former Warriors basketball player with plenty of upside, were the two most talked about prospects.
Having said all of that, linebackers Joash Gesse (Montreal) and Cory Greenwood (Concordia) stole the show. CFL teams desperately crave LBs with both the instincts and athleticism to start at the professional level, and Gesse and Greenwood clearly demonstrated that they have the potential to develop into players of that calibre. Finally, given the importance of special teams in Canadian football, it's also important to acknowledge kicker/punter Rob Maver (Guelph), whose leg strength and accuracy are already up to CFL standards.
Finding Their Way Home
Two players who are sure to be among the most heavily scouted CIS athletes leading up to the 2010 CFL Draft were not in London last week.
In fact, neither Shomari Williams nor Michael Knill has ever even suited up for a CIS game. They're not rookies, but rather two of the most intriguing transfers to arrive in Canada via NCAA programs in recent years.
Williams, a native of Brampton, Ontario, has spent the past three seasons playing for the University of Houston Cougars but, after graduating earlier this spring and turning down multiple job offers, he's taking his talents north to Kingston, Ontario, where he'll suit up for the Queen's Golden Gaels. The 6'2”, 245 lbs. linebacker saw the field as a true freshman in 2006 and has earned regular playing time on the Cougar defence over the last two years, as well as contributing on special teams throughout his tenure in Houston. Despite his size, Williams also carved out a reputation as one of the fastest linebackers at UH, backing that up with a 4.61 second forty-yard dash in recent testing. That combination of size, experience, and mobility should have Williams challenging the aforementioned Gesse and Greenwood to become the top rated linebacker in the Class of 2010.
While Williams was already on many teams' scouting radars, the same can't be said of Knill. In fact, the 24 year-old offensive lineman technically should have been eligible for the 2007 Canadian Draft but had fallen through the cracks for the last couple of years because, until recently, no one was aware that he was Canadian. Knill became lost in the shuffle because his family moved from Waterloo, Ontario to Rochester Hills, Michigan when Michael was 15. After completing his high school career in the Detroit suburb, Knill made the roster of the Michigan State Spartans as a walk-on in 2003. Three years later, after graduating from MSU, he accomplished the same feat with the University of Michigan Wolverines, cracking the active roster as a backup defensive tackle. What makes him intriguing to CFL scouts though, isn't what he did during his very limited playing time in the NCAA. It's his potential that has caught their collective eye. Besides his 92 percent academic average, Knill also possesses a muscular 6'5", 315 lbs. frame and holds a UM football testing record of thirty-nine bench press reps with 225 pounds.
He's actually rumoured to have hoisted the same weight a phenomenal sixty-four times while training as a strength athlete (powerlifting, arm wrestling) over the last two years. However, he remains unproven as a football player, something he hopes to remedy this fall, when he returns to his hometown of Waterloo, where he will play for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks while working towards his MBA.
Meanwhile, South Of The Border...
Of course, the East West Bowl is a CIS event, so it doesn't include the top draft eligible Canadians who are playing football at American schools. The consensus Number One prospect for the 2010 Draft, 6'4", 280 lbs. defensive tackle Brian Bulcke (Stanford), falls into that category. Rounding out a very early list of the Top Ten NCAA prospects, in no particular order, are offensive linemen John Bender (Nevada), J'Michael Deane (Michigan State), Joe Eppele (Washington State), Nasser Jamal (Louisiana-Lafayette), and Danny Watkins (Baylor), defensive end Bruno Lapointe (Buffalo), cornerbacks Michael Carter (Maryland) and Chris Rwabukamba (Duke), and running back Charlie Houghton (Georgetown).