The Canadian Football League (CFL) draft has come and gone with numerous young men turning their 2017 U SPORTS Valero East-West Bowl performance into a professional football opportunity. While those players await CFL training camps kicking off in the coming weeks, the next group of CFL ready talent is hard at work this week in Quebec City.
The players invited to the East-West Bowl come from every corner of the country in both hometown and school. Ontario University Athletics leads the number of total invitees with 34 followed closely by Canada West (23), RSEQ (17) and the AUS (11).
The Vanier Cup finalist and this week’s hosts, the Laval Rouge et Or, lead the number of invites by a single school with seven while the 2017 Vanier Cup champion Western Mustangs have six players in attendance.
One of those Mustangs players is quarterback Chris Merchant, a transfer from the University of Buffalo who operated with record efficiency this past fall. While Merchant would typically compete for Team West based on geography, he has been assigned to the East squad this week due to a numbers imbalance, meaning the purple ponies’ pivot with be staring across the line of scrimmage at his talented London linebackers with all eyes watching Saturday.
Merchant is the reigning Vanier Cup champion, but his Western Canadian counterpart Micheal O’Connor of UBC has been the story early on. O’Connor looks every bit the part of the Brad Sinopoli’s, Kyle Quinlan’s and Andrew Buckley’s of recent U SPORTS quarterback history and should reignite the Canadian quarterback conversation alongside Merchant with good performances for either Saturday.
While it’s always fun to talk about the quarterbacks, the true story this week in Quebec City is the level of talent in attendance. Across the board from linemen to receivers, linebackers to running backs, this group has size, speed and endless natural ability.
There is a sense of competition in practice born not from U SPORTS rivalry games and traditional grudge matches, rather the knowledge - as expressed to the players several times throughout the week - that this group has enough talent to overwhelm the 2019 CFL draft.
Every drill, every quiet moment between whistles the players have been locked in and performing at a level that rarely fits a university all-star game.
Typically, showcase events such as the East-West Bowl feature two teams with basic game plans following strict guidelines on blitzing and coverage with a group of players not comfortable with each other.
That can lead to miscommunication, errors and inevitably a low-scoring, slow-paced game.
Not this year.
Based on speaking to U SPORTS coaches, scouts and the players themselves, it seems as though the energy in practice is building towards a true display of the Canada’s best talent playing their best in the nation’s best football venue Saturday afternoon – Laval’s TELUS-UL Stadium.
Having highly talented quarterbacks throwing to receivers they adapted to quickly behind an offensive line with freaky length and athleticism is all a recipe to a high-scoring shootout.
Here is the only problem: the defence is pretty damn good too. Sideline to sideline linebackers, rangey free safeties and physical corners will all headline Saturday afternoon in the biggest audition of these players lives, for now.
If they show well in Quebec City this will only be the beginning.
Follow Marshall Ferguson at the 2018 East-West Bowl as he takes over the U SPORTS Football @USPORTS_FB accounts!