University of Regina defensive lineman Stefan Charles can cause a lot of trouble for opposing offences in between the white lines, but he knows how to avoid it off the field.
During his time growing up in Toronto as a young boy before moving to Oshawa where he attended Eastdale CVI, Charles knew he wanted to make a different choice than his friends coming out of high school.
“I didn’t want to get caught up in that stigma,” the 23-year-old said. “Some of my friends got killed and some of them went to jail, so I just didn’t want to be a part of anything like that.”
“I just wanted to get out of Toronto. Toronto is a beautiful city, but a lot of my friends were going down the wrong path and I didn’t want to go down that path. I wanted to get out of there.”
Without leaving the country, Charles got about as far away from Toronto as possible in hopes of continuing his journey to a professional football career. He moved to British Columbia to play for the Big Kahuna (now Langley) Rams of the Canadian Junior Football League. It was with the Rams that Charles received coaching from retired CFL defensive lineman, Daved Benefield.
“I knew everything I could learn from him would pay dividends. He was a good mentor and taught me a lot,” Charles said of the two-time CFL All-Star.
After the 2009 season with the Rams in BC, it was Benefield who helped Charles make his way to Regina.
“I wanted to play CIS by any means and then Dave messaged me on Facebook saying the University of Regina was looking for defensive linemen,” Charles explained.
“One guy that really pushed Stefan was Daved Benefield,” Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal said.
“We really believed he had potential simply because of his size – he’s a big man that can move. We wanted to bring him in as soon as we could.”
And just like that Charles was Regina-bound. A place he has come to call his second home.
“They embraced me and welcomed me, all of my teammates,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive lineman said. “He’s quiet and it really takes a while for him to open up to people. But he is very, very well liked here by his teammates. He’s really matured in a whole number of parts of the parcel,” McCrystal said.
Part of Charles’ maturation process has, of course, taken place on the football field. In 2012, he registered 27.5 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble in only eight games. He earned CIS first team All-Canadian honours in 2011, as did fellow Rams defensive lineman, Akiem Hicks.
A transfer from Sacramento City College, Hicks played the 2011 season with Regina on the Rams defensive front, forming a talented duo with Charles. A California native, Hicks garnered a lot of attention from NFL scouts and was eventually selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints.
“It just showed me, being a Canadian player, that the talent level isn’t that far off from the Americans,” Charles said of his one-time teammate and good friend.
In fact one CFL personnel evaluator said he’s heard more than a few people say that he was more consistent, just as dominant and just as athletic as Hicks.
As Charles’ journey towards a professional football career continues to gain nothing but positive momentum, it has become clear that the decision he made to enroll at the University of Regina was undoubtedly the right one.
“A lot of the goals I set out back home have been easier to achieve here. I’m a youth care worker here, I’m in university and I’m just trying to live a positive life.”
Charles shares his outlook on life with kids that are having trouble or come from a broken household at the Ranch Ehrlo Society in Regina. A place he spends plenty of time working in the off-season.
“It’s cool because I can reach out to the kids. I’m like a big brother,” Charles explained. “I try to give them hope and ambition, and let them know they can always change their life at any point in time. And focus on good things.”
Charles enjoys giving his attention to the kids at Rancho Ehrlo, similar to the way he attracts it with his play on the football field.
His first time in front of pro scouts came during the week of testing and practicing leading up to the 2012 CIS East West Bowl. “After seeing all the experienced coaches and scouts there it really dawned on me, like ok Stef, you know this is unfolding,” Charles said.
“If you’re a big guy that can play inside, if they have to double team you and they can’t move you off the line, you’re someone that they’re very interested in,” McCrystal said.
“Scouts like his aggressiveness, they like his push, they like his ability to move his feet, all of those things.”
Scouts sure liked what they saw from Charles after a week of getting an up close look at him. Enough that Canadian talent evaluators combined to rank him number four on the CFL scouting bureau list among all 2013 draft eligible prospects.
“It’s always difficult at any level to find a defensive tackle. This is a Canadian that can do that,” McCrystal said.
“A lot of times what CFL teams are doing is bringing Americans in at defensive tackle – this guy is gold for the CFL because of his size and his abilities. Some teams are saying he would start for them right now.”
However, Charles knows better than to read his own press clippings.
“I’m the type of person – I want to wait until I actually arrive to say I’ve done it.”
It seems like just a matter of time until Charles will be able to announce his arrival on the professional football stage.