March 2, 2011

E-Camp: Jade green, but rich with potential

Jim Mullin

He arrived into the Top 15 CFL prospects just under the bar, in the final spot. That’s all part of a pattern for Saskatchewan Huskies receiver Jade Etienne during his four-year run in the Canada West.

You don’t expect to see him and all of a sudden he’s there.

In fact, Etienne did not expect to see himself in a starring role. On his arrival to the University of Saskatchewan campus, Etienne was penciled in as a kicker.

“I actually wasn’t expecting to make the team at my first camp,” Etienne admitted. 

Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Brian Towriss isn’t the type of coach who sells potential recruits on false expectations and Etienne was no exception. He remembers the freshman kid treading water at his inaugural camp.

“He was a lanky kid who could run naturally and had good hands, but he was raw, raw, raw,” Towriss recalled.

Etienne remembers a new boss laying down the law at camp one.

“BT (Towriss) told me that I could try out at receiver but he wasn’t promising me anything. But he also said that I could try out as a kicker and I might have a chance,” Etienne said.

After a year he committed to receiver full-time.

Towriss says an off-season of commitment changed Etienne as an athlete.

“He continued to work hard then he just kind of popped. He got strong, started running a 4.5 and was instantly explosive,” Towriss said.

Etienne still marvels at his transformation as an athlete within the Saskatchewan system.

“If you would have talked to me about four years ago that I’d be attending an E-Camp, let alone as a receiver, there’s no way I would have believed you.”

Etienne reconsidered his future in football after sustaining three fractures in his back during a practice in 2009, but was convinced by people around him that he should not give up in 2010.

It took a convincing performance in a non-conference game at the start of the 2010 season against Western Ontario to secure a starting spot on the travelling roster. He followed that up with deep threat regular season stats of 28 catches for 721 yards and six TDs.

With only eight starts spread over his last two seasons on his resume, Etienne does not bring the number of reps to E-Camp that Calgary’s Nathan Coehoorn does with starts over all four seasons and two years in junior football.

His inexperience in game situations raises two issues.

In the short term for Etienne, it places a huge importance on his combine results. He can have a certain level of control over the measurables.

What he does not have control over is getting drafted this year, when he still has eligibility remaining. 

Etienne may be the kind of athlete who would benefit from deferring his draft status until the end of his fifth season in Saskatoon.

An extra season would not only provide more starting reps, but would also allow an extra year of training for his 6’3”, 165-pound frame.

While Etienne naturally hopes to stick on a CFL practice roster and develop as soon as possible, Towriss would like to see a system which would allow an athlete a more flexible path to the pros.

“I like to see where the player had one chance to defer (participation in the draft) if he chooses to, especially if they’ve come in and redshirted and haven’t played that much which they used to be able to do.” Towriss said.

Towriss also thinks that CFL teams should invest in longer term player development by protecting their rights to a drafted player who is cut in his rookie year.

“The second thing I would do is allow a kid who is drafted who has gone to training camp and is let go, is to be able to not have to go through waivers so the team can retain his rights for the next year.”

Joining Etienne from the Huskies will be fellow teammates Braeden George a , 6’1”, 195 pound wide out from Saskatoon who caught 26 passes for 270 yards and three majors and linebacker Peter Thiel, 6’1”, 210 pounder who averaged 5.6 tackles per game.

The Regina Rams will also represent the province of Saskatchewan led by quarterback Marc Mueller. Unfortunately, Mueller’s favourite end zone target, wide out Brendan Owens, was a last minute drop out from E-Camp due to a hamstring injury.

Mueller was the top QB in the conference last year passing for 2,437 yards – an average of 305 per game – a 65.5 completion percentage, and 14 TDs to only five interceptions in 2010.

Mueller also happens to be the grandson of the Late Ron Lancaster.

A total of a dozen Canada West players will be attending E-Camp, with Alberta, Calgary, Manitoba, and the two Saskatchewan schools represented.