Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gryphon excellence at CFL E-Camp: Guelph sends largest single-school contingent to Toronto for three-day testing

With Canadian Football League (CFL) scouts and coaches hoping to get a glimpse of the league’s incoming homegrown talent, six members of the Guelph Gryphons put their skills on display at the annual Evaluation Camp on the weekend.

The Gryphons football program sent more athletes to the three-day event than any other university, proving that despite their underachieving 3-5 record during the regular season, the individual talent on the team is among the nation’s best.

Taking part were offensive lineman Ryan Bomben, defensive lineman Grant MacDonald, running back Nick Fitzgibbon, kicker Rob Maver, linebacker Adam Dunk and his brother, quarterback Justin Dunk.

The competition and level of skill on display was unbelievable. The E-Camp was an opportunity for CFL personnel to get an up close and personal look at draft-eligible Canadian players, as well as others who had been passed over in previous years.

“I set the bar high for myself coming in,” said Fitzgibbon. “I didn’t reach some of those goals, but I did reach others, and overall, I’d say it was a pretty good camp for me.”

Fitzgibbon was one among a group of seven running backs taking part, known for his versatility both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield.

“On the offensive side of the ball, it helps that I can be a dual threat,” he said. “I feel like I excel coming out of the backfield and catching the ball.”

Having just completed his fourth season as a Gryphon, Fitzgibbon is eligible for both the CFL draft, as well as one more year of university football.

Former Gryphons defensive back Brad Crawford was in the same situation last year. Crawford was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts, let go during training camp, and returned to Guelph for his fifth year of eligibility. After a strong final year, Crawford was given a contract by the Argos just a few months ago and will likely be with the team for the upcoming CFL season.

Fitzgibbon was thoroughly impressed with the level of competition among the running backs at the E-Camp, a group that he has become increasingly familiar with over his football career.

“Since we were younger, we’ve all been to Team Canada [workouts] and East-West bowls,” he said. “We’ve all known each other for a long time.

“We see ourselves working as running backs against everyone else. We encourage each other and we push each other. It was a really talented group.”

After trying out as a receiver in Friday’s National Invitational Combine, Justin Dunk also took part in the E-Camp, this time at quarterback where he replaced injured Western Mustangs’ signal-caller Michael Faulds.

Canadian quarterbacks were arguably the story of the weekend with Dunk, Danny Brannagan from Queen’s and Erik Glavic from the Calgary Dinos all trying to impress league scouts. After both measurable events and activity drills, Dunk felt that his performance was strong.

“I benched about what I expected to, but I wish my 40 [sprint] time was a little bit faster. We all wish that though,” he admitted. “I threw pretty well and I hope that I can look like an athlete and get a shot.

“I hit hands on every [throw], and every ball I threw was caught, except for two,” Dunk continued. “One was dropped and the other was a deep ball that was just a little too far.”

Canadian quarterbacks have been notably absent from CFL rosters for many years, with teams opting for American-trained pivots instead.

“If a Canadian quarterback doesn’t get a chance after seeing how well we all threw today, I don’t know what else needs to happen,” said Dunk, after his drills were completed.

Following the camp, all three quarterbacks received recognition from CFL teams. Dunk was contacted for an interview with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, Glavic was placed on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats negotiating list and most interestingly of all, Brannagan was signed to a three-year deal by the Argos, where he will look to become the first Canadian to start since Larry Jusdanis with Hamilton in 1995.


  1. Hey Mike, any feedback on whom may get drafted? I would say Maver is a lock to be picked. What of Bomben, MacDonald, Fitzgibbon and Adam Dunk? Any word? While I hope they get the deserved recognition of being drafted, I'd Like to see them all back for the final seasons.

  2. Hey,

    Thanks for the read, and the comment/question.

    While I'm not privy to information in each CFL team's respective war room, haha, I'll do my best to convey my assumptions, what I've heard, what I expect, etc.

    It's also very important to understand that even if they get drafted, that doesn't mean they won't play out their 5th year of eligibility--this happens ALL the time, so don't expect a mass exodus of star players going into next year.

    - Maver is, from absolutely everything I've heard, not only a lock to be picked, but also very likely to go in the top 10 AND play in the CFL next year. As a guy who offers the ability to punt/kick field goals as well as he does, this is a very attractive thing for teams. In addition to my mention of his discussions with Calgary and Toronto, I've heard Hamilton as well. He's got a blog on his E-Camp experiences over at It's a good read. We're also doing an article on him in this week's edition of the Ontarion, check out on Thursday.
    - Adam Dunk is a guy who I could definitely see eventually playing in the league. He's got a nose for the football and would make a great special teams candidate right off the bat. Remember, by and large, Canadian players in the CFL start on special teams, and I think he'd thrive there. His leg injury limited him at the E-Camp, so I expect him back in Guelph for year 5 to further build his game and could get a pro offer next year. I also think he needs to add a little more weight that has been lost in light of his injury--weighed in at 220 at the combine. Despite his limitations at E-Camp, teams were aware of his talents beforehand.
    - Bomben is a player that is earning A LOT of consideration. Strong, quick, athletic, good size at 6'3", 299 pounds. I could see him getting picked, let go in training camp, returning to Guelph for year 5 and then getting a pro offer next year--same thing as what happened with Brad Crawford in the past two years.
    - MacDonald also talked to a couple of teams, and I was surprised to see him weigh in at 285. That's bigger than I expected and I think was a welcome sign for teams. He was still agile in drills, but DL is a tough position to crack.
    - Fitzgibbon has a nice skill set and his versatility will give render him consideration. The only thing is, can he perform on special teams? As I said, if they're not going straight to the practice squad, CIS players go to special teams at the next level. I expect him to get a tryout, but I'm not sure about him getting drafted. Remember, CFL teams have a whole country's worth of 4th-year players to sort through in the draft AND numerous American college players as well.
    - Justin Dunk is a wildcard, as far as I'm concerned. Height measured around 5'11", which is shorter than I expected, BUT his stock as a receiver seems to be climbing. I've heard Saskatchewan really likes his athleticism and may be willing to start him on the practice squad and bring him along slowly as an 'athlete'. It's not completely uncommon for athletic QBs to switch to receiver--Jermaine Copeland, the new Argos WR, was actually Peyton Manning's backup at the University of Tennessee--good trivia there!

    I'll do my best to keep the blog updated as more info comes down. The draft is Sunday, May 2 so more will be coming soon. Sorry for the lengthy response--hope it helped.


  3. Nice in-depth information here. Thanks. I have a question. Here and at different other sources I always read about non-import QB's trying to make the switch to receiver to make the CFL. That brings up a couple of questions. Is there not sufficient talent at receiver itself in the CIS? Why would a team want somebody that has no CIS game film on how he runs routes, gets open, handles traffic in the middle catches the ball or blocks for the run game over somebody who has done it for years? Could you give your opinion how many CIS players overall will make a team/practice roster or camp at the receiver position this year?

  4. Wow--great question. While I'm by no means an expert, I'll do my best with what I know.

    I don't think it's a matter of a lack of talent at WR in the CIS. Every year, we're seeing very solid receivers make the transition to the pro game. Think Mike Morreale, Jason Clermont, Andy Fantuz, Rob Bagg and Chris Getzlaf to name a few. Steven Turner could be the next one.

    The thing is, CFL teams aren't expecting CIS skill players to come in and contribute in a big way right away. Oftentimes, they're looking for athleticism, upside and football IQ. And, if a guy (like Dunk, for instance) performs well in drills, that just helps accelerate the process.

    Also, keep in mind that Saskatchewan - who has shown the most interest in J. Dunk - seems to LOVE Canadian receivers. They've currently got Getzlaf, Fantuz, Bagg, Clermont and Dave McKoy (former Gryphon). Half your roster needs to be non-import players, so it's important to always have your ear to the ground for the next great homegrown talent.

    Generally, I was not overly impressed with the receivers at the E-Camp. Speed was decent, routes were OK, hands were average at best. Cory Watson and Akeem Foster were expected to excel and while it can be hard for me to pass judgment on players with such a small sample of their work, I was more impressed by Shawn Gore (Bishop's) and Charles-Antoine Sinotte from McGill.

    The CFL draft is funny/interesting in the way it is reserved for the selection of players who still have CIS eligibility--players picked often return to university for a fifth year, as I indicated before. With that in mind, it is very difficult to speculate how many players will make the jump to the pros next year. Last year, in the six-round 2009 draft, 7 receivers were selected. I wouldn't expect more than 7 selected this year, and between active rosters/practice squads, I would estimate 3-5 Canadian "receivers" find jobs.

    Thanks as always for your comments/questions.