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New stars emerge at East-West Bowl as countdown to 2018 U SPORTS season begins

Marshall Ferguson

Credit: Mathieu Bélanger

Not what we thought

In a week that saw elite marquee receivers and powerful pass rushers dazzle daily on film, Saturday’s 2018 U SPORTS Valero East-West Bowl was defined by some of the lesser known names eligible for the 2019 CFL draft.

While Laurier’s Kurleigh Gittens Jr., StFX’s Kaion Julien-Grant, Queen’s Chris Osei-Kusi and UBC’s Trivel Pinto looked primed to own the afternoon based on practice, it was names like Hunter Karl of Calgary making a big grab over the middle, Regina’s Kyle Moortgat beating press coverage to catch a fade and Colton Hunchak of York winning Team West MVP that stood out on the day.

Colton_Hunchak.jpg (287 KB)
Colton Hunchak (Credit: Mathieu Bélanger) 

 

You Betts he’s good

Laval defensive end Mathieu Betts is freaky fun. His explosion off the ball is noticeably superior to even the high talent level around him this week. His energy from snap to whistle is infectious and his demeanour suggests only an injury can slow his will to work.

Betts seems like a first round lock in my imaginary way too early 2019 CFL mock draft, thanks to all these traits and he had several Team West coaches looking at each other rolling their eyes Saturday as if to say, “What do we do to try containing this guy?”

Just a bit off

Frustration mounted on both the East and West sidelines early on, as a week’s worth of film study and on-field work was negated by avoidable mental errors and communication flaws. As the afternoon progressed, there were moments of opportunity for both squads to pull away. 

A sideline shot from Michael O’Connor to UBC Thunderbirds teammate Pinto down six points with nine minutes to play fell harmlessly to the turf. A deep dart from Western Mustangs QB Chris Merchant to Mount Allison Mounties receiver Malikue Richards called back by an offside penalty.          

Just a couple examples of missed opportunities, but for every mistake there were plays made displaying the potential of the 2018 East-West players previewed at practice through the week.

A jaw-dropping throw on the run from West QB O’Connor, a perfect pass breakup from UBC free safety Stavros Katsantonis, a spectacular special teams tackle by Laval’s Kevin McGee just to name a few.

Combines can’t measure heart

The most fun part of the day was watching Laval monster receiver Alexandre Savard and Western Mustangs scrappy undersized linebacker Fraser Sopik go to war on special teams.

They allowed each other everywhere on punt and punt return and produced some epic film, for an untraditional reason.

Usually when talking gloriously about a special teams battle, it’s because two titans clashed with no real winner. Make no mistake, this is not that.

Savard beat up Sopik play after play after play, but Sopik never gave up. Every single time he popped back up and got right back into the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Savard’s grill, trying to be a speed bump for the 18-wheel frenchmen. You have to respect the battle of Sopik and scouts will when they see the film too.

This is only the beginning

I love the East-West Bowl because it serves as a spotlight introduction for many CFL-bound players to the national evaluation stage. What this week showed everyone in attendance or those who tuned in Saturday was the 2018 U SPORTS season will be full of talented names to track all the way through training camp, to the Vanier Cup and into next year’s CFL Draft.

This is a supremely talented group at every position which makes their evaluation difficult, but ultimately rewarding because it tells me we’re in for a great fall.