TORONTO – Derek Jones has never had to look far for his football inspiration.
The Simon Fraser defensive back strutted his stuff Saturday at the first day of the CFL’s national combine, looking ultimately to emerge from the shadow of his father, Ed, a former defensive back who won five Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos.
“He really turned me into who I am today as a man as well as a football player and has helped me every step of the way,” the junior Jones said. “I talk with people and everyone knows who he is so I want to have a better legacy.
The six-foot-one, 181-pound Jones had 34 tackles — including 23 solo — and two interceptions in seven games last season with Simon Fraser. Jones, an Edmonton native, has caught the eye of CFL scouts and is expected to go in the first three rounds of the May 13 draft.
But Jones didn’t enjoy a solid opening day of testing. He recorded 11 reps in the 225-pound bench press but his 31.5-inch vertical and standing broad jump of nine feet 0.5 inches were both last among the defensive backs participating in the combine.
“I was disappointed with my jumps, I’ve put up better numbers in practice,” Jones said. “Today it didn’t seem to happen, nerves I guess. Just not my best day.
“It (nerves) is something you’ve got to get used to. You’re going to be playing in front a lot of people and it’s an issue I should’ve done a better job of dealing with.”
However, Jones will get a shot at redemption Sunday when he lines up for the 40-yard dash and later dons the pads for one-on-one drills.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” he said. “It will be a good chance to show off what I can do, put up a good 40 time and cover some guys.”
And in the process, prove a point.
“That Canadians can play corner just as well as Americans,” Jones said. “That’s what I want to prove.”
Jones also wants to leave the 80 CFL coaches, scouts and GMs attending the combine with a definite message.
“How hard I’m going to work,” he said. “I try and be a technician and take extra reps when I can.
“I really care about my coverage.”
Defensive lineman David Menard of the Montreal Carabins finished first among the 51 combine participants in the bench press with 33 reps. Offensive linemen Pierre Lavertu of Laval and Terry Hart of St. Francis Xavier both recorded 32 reps to finish tied for second.
Lavertu finished the season at No. 2 on the CFL scouting bureau’s top-15 prospects for the ’14 draft. But with top-ranked McGill tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif not in attendance, Lavertu is now the top dog at the combine but didn’t participate in the broad jump due to a lingering injury.
“I don’t feel any extra pressure, I put enough pressure on myself,” he said. “I just want to be the best I can be on every drill.”
Windsor receiver Evan Pszczonak had the top vertical jump at 40 inches while Queen’s defensive back Andrew Lue, had the longest broad jump at 10 feet five inches.
The six-foot-three, 300-pound Lavertu, three times a CIS first-team All-Canadian, also posted a 23.5-inch vertical — just a half-inch short of what he did at Laval — but is looking forward to donning the pads Sunday.
“I think I did what I was supposed to although I was disappointed I couldn’t take part in the broad jump,” he said. “Sunday will be more technical and we’ll do some football techniques and show what we’ve worked on.
“I want to show I’m a physical player, win my one-on-ones and show good technique.”
Brendan Taman, the general manager of the Grey Cup-champion Saskatchewan Roughriders, said Lavertu has all the tools needed to make the jump into the CFL.
“He’s a good player, a very good player and a good prospect,” Taman said. “He’s solid and what you’d be looking for.”
Manitoba defensive lineman Evan Gill, who finished No. 6 in the CFL scouting bureau’s rankings, finished tied for fifth in the bench press with 29 reps. The six-foot-three, 280-pound Winnipeg native is another highly touted prospect after joining Duvernay-Tardif at the East-West Shrine game in January in Florida.
“He’s a good defensive lineman,” Taman said of Gill. “He played a little end at the East-West Shrine game, which is out of the norm for him because he’s more an inside guy.
“But he’s a strong, powerful kid who works hard. He’s very compact and will have a good future.”