Texas Isn't Always Best
The state of Texas has always been considered one of the biggest football hotbeds in the United States, in terms of participation, player development, and fan interest. One of the great indicators of how much grassroots football has improved in Canada in recent years is the fact that universities in prospect-rich Texas now actively recruit north of the 49th parallel. Perhaps an even better indicator, though, of how highly football is now regarded in this country is the fact that three Canadians recently elected to transfer from NCAA Division 1 programs in the Lone Star State to play at Canadian schools instead.
Last year, linebacker/defensive end Fredric Plesius became Baylor University's first Canadian recruit (the Bears have since added two others). This fall, look for the 6'1", 250 pound native of Montreal to suit up for the Laval Rouge et Or. After redshirting during the 2008 season, he will be eligible to play immediately at Laval.
Another Quebec product, defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, was one of four Canadians at Rice University in '08 (the Owls recruited two more for 2009). As a true freshman last year, he saw considerable playing time at defensive end and performed well enough to earn a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team. He chose not to return to Rice this fall and is expected to eventually end up in the CIS, likely somewhere in his home province. Regardless of which school he chooses, two factors will prevent the 6'4", 235 pound Gascon-Nadon from playing in '09. First of all, transfer rules require him to sit out a year because he actually participated in games for the Owls last fall. The other issue is that he has an injured shoulder that will likely need to be surgically repaired before he plays again.
Plesius and Gascon-Nadon join Brampton, Ontario's Shomari Williams, who, as previously reported in this space, has transferred to Queen's University after spending the last three years playing linebacker for the University of Houston Cougars. The 6'2", 245 pound Williams will be eligible to play for the Gaels right away because he accelerated his studies and graduated from Houston in the spring. There'll be more on Williams, a top 2010 Draft prospect, later in this column.
It's not unusual for CIS schools to occasionally land American recruits.
In fact, several Canadian programs make regular recruiting visits to the U.S. Nor is it unheard of for a player to play CIS football after having spent time in the CFL. One example is current Calgary Stampeder offensive lineman Tim O'Neill, who returned to the University of Calgary in 2007 to complete his CIS eligibility after spending the previous year on the practice roster of the Edmonton Eskimos. What is somewhat unique, however, is an American player with professional football experience playing for a Canadian university. Such is the case of running back Da'Shawn Thomas, who will suit up this fall for the Western Ontario Mustangs.
Thomas played in 2007 for the semi-pro Georgia Generals and spent the entire ‘08 season on the Toronto Argonauts practice roster but, outside of a brief stint at a junior college in Kansas in 2006, the 5'11, 210 pound back had never played college football. In the NCAA, any professional experience in a given sport nullifies any remaining eligibility in that sport. However, in the CIS, each year as a professional typically only costs an individual one year of eligibility, making Canadian university football the only option for Thomas as he looks to combine education with a place to hone his football skills in preparation for the 2010 NFL Draft. Apparently the recommendation of friend and former Argonauts teammate Tyler Scott and the NFL attention garnered by former Mustang Vaughn Martin was enough to lure the 21 year-old Thomas to the London campus.
Western's offence should get an additional boost with the arrival of fifth-year receiver Josh Svec, who was second in the nation in receiving yardage last year as a member of the Waterloo Warriors. In both size and style, Svec is reminiscent of current Calgary Stampeder Brett Ralph at a similar stage of his development and merits a second look from CFL scouts after being passed over in the 2009 Draft.
Leave No Stone Unturned
Most of the Canadians chosen in the CFL's annual draft are products of CIS and NCAA Division 1 programs but the Class of 2010 offers some intriguing prospects from smaller NCAA Division 2 and NAIA schools.
Here's a brief look at a few of them.
Nate Binder – wide receiver, Tusculum Pioneers (NCAA D2): The 6'3", 190 pound Binder was a second team All-South Atlantic Conference selection last season after making 49 receptions for 944 yards and nine touchdowns in twelve games.
Scott Ferguson – offensive line, St. Cloud State (NCAA D2): The 6'6", 330 pounds Ferguson redshirted in 2006 so he still has two years of eligibility remaining. Nonetheless, he was named a First Team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division All-Star at left tackle in 2008.
Bart Archdekin – offensive line, Minot State (NAIA): Archdekin has been named a Dakota Athletic Conference All-Star each of the last two seasons, putting the 6'3", 326 pounds Calgarian on the radar of CFL scouts.
Nick Levnaich – kicker, Minot State (NAIA): Primarily a placekicker, Levnaich showed tremendous accuracy by making ten of his eleven field goal attempts in 2008. His longest kick was from just 35 yards though, so his mission this year is to prove that he has CFL range.
Jerome Miller – running back, Missouri University of Science & Technology (NCAA D2): Miller recorded rushing totals of 304 and 334 yards as a backup in 2008 and 2007 respectively but, with the graduation of starter David Shields, the 210 pound Toronto native should get an opportunity to shoulder more of the load in '09. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
As an aside, add Hampton University kicker Carlo Turavani to the list of top Division 1 prospects for the 2010 Draft. He had been on the radar for 2011 but, as it turns out, he will be eligible for next spring's talent auction because his name appeared on the roster at McMaster in 2006, a year before he accepted a scholarship to Hampton. He'll join the aforementioned Nick Levnaich and Guelph's Rob Maver in a solid class of available kickers. Maver, in particular, is outstanding and may even attract some NFL attention after spending a portion of his summer with in the U.S. with renowned kicking coach Gary Zauner.
The internet offers fans an advance look at two highly regarded prospects for the 2010 CFL Draft.
Concordia University slotback Cory Watson, one of the top receivers in the Class of 2010, has followed the lead of many professional athletes by creating his own website. At corywatson.com, fans can view photos, highlights, and press clippings of the talented Stingers receiver.
Also, Queen's University linebacker Shomari Williams recently spent a week working out under the direction of Canadian trainer Mike Gough at his Florida facility. Gough has earned a reputation south of the border as one of the best in the business when it comes to prepping football players for combines and training camps and last year worked with the top two picks in the 2008 CFL Draft, Simeon Rottier and Étienne Légaré,
Check out the video from one of Williams' workout sessions.