March 19, 2014

Combine: Chambers reflects on career-shaping event

As young athletes prepare to show their worth during this weekend’s CFL Combine, one former first-round draft pick reflects on what helped him become an elite prospect.

Receiver Shamawd Chambers was a standout at the 2012 Combine (then known as Evaluation Camp), and it led him to becoming the sixth overall draft pick by the Edmonton Eskimos, with whom he is set to begin his third pro season in June.

Chambers will be the official Combine Insider for this weekend in Toronto.

Chambers dazzled scouts and General Managers with a top-ranked time of 4.42 in the 40 yard dash, while also impressing in the vertical and broad jumps along with the shuttle – yet the 25-year-old Markham, Ont. native says he believes it was something else that separated him from the rest.

“You want to show the scouts that you can be a pro,” Chambers says.

For him, that’s just as important as any positional drill or test result, and his focus on doing that made him a safe pick in the eyes of all eight CFL teams two years ago. Through preparation as well as his eagerness to improve in areas of weakness, Chambers demonstrated the level of maturity required to thrive as a professional athlete.

“A way of showing the scouts and the GMs that you can be a pro is preparing yourself for the combine, not only for the drills but for the meetings and what questions are going to be asked,” he says.

“If you can show the scouts that you can prepare for the combine, then it’s easier for them to understand that you can be a better pro and prepare each week for what the coaches throw at you when you’re in meeting rooms and stuff like that.”

With the combine still months away, he began his training in Florida at the turn of the calendar on January 2nd. Surrounded by the right people to guide him as well as other athletes preparing for the same thing, Chambers worked Monday to Friday each and every week in order to be ready.

Like always in football, the key to being ready for an event that is so short but so important is repetition.

“With the combine you’ve gotta be a creature of habit,” says Chambers. “Your training regimen is going to be closely the same as what you’re doing, because you want to continue to do what you’re doing so by the time you get to the combine it’s just second nature.”

“Kind of the way football prepares you, you’re doing something over and over again so by the time the game comes, you’re not even thinking about it – you’re just doing it.”

Just as important as being in peak physical condition entering the combine is also showing both maturity and a conscious understanding of your own skill-set in the team interviews. The mental side, after all, matters every bit as much as the physical side.

Chambers prepared for what’s been cast as a rather intimidating process by asking himself the difficult questions, such as what he wasn’t good at and what he needed to improve on rather than focusing on his strengths.

“The biggest part of being a man and being a pro is to understand your limitations and how you can be better with those limitations – how they can help you become a better pro and where you need to work on the skills that you have,” he says. “It’s to show them that you’re conscious of the fact that you’re not good at certain things and you need help on those things.”

“I think those are the traits that scouts really want to see because you’re coachable if you’re able to point out the things that you’re not really good at, and when you’re coachable it just makes it that much easier for you to be a better pro.”

The combine arrived in early March and was everything Chambers, in top condition both mentally and physically, says he expected. He knew what kind of numbers he’d put up in the tests, because he was going through them each and every week.

He was, as football players are, a creature of habit, and for that reason he was neither nervous nor over-anxious going in – just excited to show off his months of hard work getting ready.

The combine is without question a daunting task for prospects because it’s the final impression they’ll make before the CFL Draft. Add to that the unfamiliar process and the close attention of every GM and scout in the business, and it’s easy to understand why it’s a stressful time for those hopeful to be drafted in May.

On the other hand, that is exactly what helps teams distinguish who can adapt and make the most of a challenging situation, and who can’t – or in other words, who’s ready to step to the next level and become a professional.

“The people who succeed the most in the combine understand that you’ve got to get familiar with your surroundings very quickly,” says Chambers.

“You have to adapt to it as quickly as possible in order for you to really succeed, because at the end of the day as much as they try to put it from an uncomfortable position, the best football players are the ones who get comfortable in the fastest amount of time.”

That, as opposed to any one test, drill, or interview in particular, is what will separate the best from the rest this weekend.