March 7, 2017

Through the Lens: Iconic moments of the combine

CFL.ca

TORONTO — For a few days this March, the lights will get brighter and Canada’s top amateur prospects will put their talents on full display.

The CFL Combine presented by adidas hits Regina from March 23-25, putting the country’s football future in the spotlight.

Brad Sinopoli, Antoine Pruneau, Henoc Muamba, Pierre Lavertu — those are just some of the players that went through the CFL Combine before becoming the stars you know today.

We think back and remember Shamawd Chambers’ record in the 40 yard dash, only to have it broken twice on the same day years later by Shaq Murray-Lawrence and Tevaughn Campbell. Then there are the records we think are unbreakable, like Michael Knill’s 47 reps on the bench press.

The reality: records are meant to be broken.

Expect more iconic moments this March but for now, we look back on the last 10 years of the CFL Combine:

cfl_combine_2017_1

POSITIVE GAINS
EVALUATION CAMP, 2008

Current Alouettes receiver Sam Giguere is pictured below, running the 40 during E-Camp in 2008. The Sherbrooke graduate has always been in tip top shape but it’s hard to ignore the size of those arms in this throwback to the past.

CFL.ca

Giguere was drafted eighth overall by the Ticats but after spending time in the NFL, it wasn’t until 2012 that he made it north of the border. After three seasons and more than 1,500 receiving yards, the native of Sherbrooke, Que. signed with Montreal, where he continues to play today at age 31.

SPEEDY JAMALL LEE
EVALUATION CAMP, 2009

While Jean-Frederic Tremblay’s record in the 40-yard dash held up five years, it wasn’t meant to last forever. Bishop’s running back Jamall Lee set a new mark in 2009, running a 4.39 and cementing his name in the all-time record books.

CFL.ca

The 6-foot-1, 221-pound phenom parlayed his combine success into a third overall selection in the 2009 CFL Draft. But after trying out for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in 2009, Lee’s CFL career with the Lions lasted only three years. He retired after the 2011 season.

STEVEN ‘AFTERBURNER’ TURNER
EVALUATION CAMP, 2010

As impressive as Jamall Lee’s 2009 record was, Bishop’s receiver Steven Turner shattered it a year later with a 4.31. Turner’s mark remains the all-time fastest 40 and no one has since threatened it.

CFL.ca

Despite his record-breaking 40 and first-place finishes in the shuttle, vertical leap and broad jump, Turner fell to the fourth round of the CFL Draft where he was selected by his hometown Argos. A devastating injury, a ruptured Achilles suffered in training camp, ended his season and soon his career before it ever got started.

CFL STRONG MAN
EVALUATION CAMP, 2011

It’s been almost six years since Michael Knill, pictured below, shattered the record for the most reps on the bench press. His 47 reps surpassed the 40 put up by Mike Montoya, while no one has since been able to touch Knill’s feat.

CFL.ca

Despite smashing a combine record that still stands up today, Knill fell to the sixth round, 43rd overall, where he was selected by the Toronto Argonauts. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound mammoth of an offensive lineman couldn’t catch on with a CFL club.

SINOPOLI THE QUARTERBACK
EVALUATION CAMP, 2011

We hear about it often, how Brad Sinopoli used to quarterback the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. He’s pictured below working out as a pivot at E-camp, long before making the switch to receiver in Calgary.

CFL.ca

Many change positions before the pros but Sinopoli did it after, the 6-foot-4 Ottawa graduate proving his athleticism by switching from quarterback to receiver with the Stamps in 2013. His career truly took off after signing with the REDBLACKS, going over 1,000 yards in back to back seasons while recently winning his second Grey Cup.

SHAMAWD CHAMBERS
CFL COMBINE, 2012

If you look now, Shamawd Chambers’ time of 4.42 in the 40 in 2012 sits seventh on the all-time list, but his run that year was significant because it was the highest electronic time ever recorded (the switch had then been made from hand timing to electronic).

CFL.ca

A top draft prospect to begin with, Chambers’ dash only raised his stock, eventually helping him become a sixth overall pick by the Edmonton Eskimos. The Laurier alum has racked up 1,500 receiving yards over five seasons, although injuries have prevented him from seeing his full potential. He’s back with the Eskimos in 2017.

LIFTING HIS STOCK
CFL COMBINE, 2013

While he couldn’t reach the all-time mark, Elie Ngoyi’s 40 reps on the bench press in 2013 tied him for second all-time along with Mike Montoya. The current Edmonton Eskimo is pictured below preparing for the test:

CFL.ca

A fringe prospect at the time, Ngoyi solidified his draft stock with a strong combine performance and eventually became a sixth round pick. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end stuck it out with the Esks, playing 53 games and recording 19 special teams tackles over four CFL seasons.

ROBERTSON STEALS THE HEADLINES
CFL COMBINE, 2013

Kristopher Robertson didn’t take long to prove the value of the regional combine, earning a spot at the nationals before dominating the field on both days. The Concordia alum was number one in the 40, the broad jump and the vertical jump, making a major impression in time for the CFL Draft.

CFL.ca

Robertson’s electrifying combine performance clearly opened eyes, leading the Pickering, Ont. native to become the 11th overall pick by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The 5-foot-9 defensive back’s success didn’t translate, however, as an injury sidelined him for the 2013 season while a stint with the Riders in 2015 wasn’t mean to last.

EVERYONE LOVES AN UNDERDOG
CFL COMBINE, 2013

While Kristopher Robertson put up the numbers, Jermaine Gabriel was just as impressive at the CFL Combine in 2013 — at least in the eyes of scouts. Gabriel also ascended through a regional combine, the Edmonton Regional Combine, becoming a starting safety at the next level.

CFL.ca

Gabriel’s efforts at the combine helped him become the 17th overall pick by the Toronto Argonauts, who eventually started him at safety. In four seasons with the Argos, Gabriel has 133 defensive tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception over a span of 60 games.

VERSATILITY PAYS OFF
CFL COMBINE, 2014

A shifty young running back out of Manitoba, Anthony Coombs was talking to reporters following his drills when Dave Dickenson told him ‘you’re going back out there’ with the receivers. Coombs’ versatility at the combine made him a wanted man at the CFL Draft in May.

CFL.ca

The Argos traded up to draft Coombs third overall, likely eyeing an Andre Durie-type role for the 21-year-old. After suffering a season-ending injury in his first year, Coombs has missed only one game over the last two years and will look to take the next step in year four of his career.

THE FIRST OVERALL PICK
CFL COMBINE, 2014

Pierre Lavertu, pictured below on the right, dominated at the CFL Combine in 2014, eventually helping him become the first overall pick by the Calgary Stampeders.

CFL.ca

Lavertu earned a contract extension with the Stampeders this off-season but could take some time getting back in the lineup coming off a serious knee injury. The 26-year-old took over the starting centre role almost immediately and won a Grey Cup in 2014 before being named a West Division All-Star a year later.

ACKIE JUMPS OFF THE PAGE
CFL COMBINE, 2015

Chris Ackie jumped off the charts at the 2015 CFL Combine, his 10-foot, 11.5-inch broad jump setting a new all-time record at the combine. Ackie also led the field with a 40-inch vertical while scouts had him test as a defensive back and a linebacker.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

A dominant showing at the combine helped Chris Ackie become the fourth overall pick with the Alouettes, although his impact throughout two CFL seasons hasn’t yet extended beyond special teams. The 25-year-old could play a much greater role in 2017 on a new-look Alouettes defence.

TWO RECORDS, ONE DAY
CFL COMBINE, 2015

UNLV’s Shaq Murray-Lawrence set the 40 on fire with a 4.41, breaking the electronic record previously set by Shamawd Chambers in 2012. It wasn’t meant to last, however, as Tevaughn Campbell one-upped him on the same day.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

While his record didn’t stick, Murray-Lawrence’s explosiveness was enough to tempt Wally Buono into using the 23rd overall pick to select him in May. In two seasons, the 5-foot-8, 202-pound back has shown flashes as a running back and returner — but the best is yet to come for the 23-year-old.

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO…
CFL COMBINE, 2015

As impressive as Shaq Murray-Lawrence’s 4.41 might have been, it didn’t hold a candle to Tevaughn Campbell’s 4.36 set on the same afternoon. Campbell’s mark remains the second-highest all-time and number one for an electronic time.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The ultra-athletic Campbell was picked in the third round, 22nd overall by the Stampeders in 2015 before being traded a year later. The 23-year-old has the athleticism that Chris Jones desires and after registering 12 tackles, a sack, an interception and a touchdown last season, Campbell could be in for a bigger role in 2017.

ARCHAMBAULT RISES TO THE CHALLENGE
CFL COMBINE, 2015

Byron Archambault, pictured below, flexes after hitting 41 reps on the bench press. While he set out to eclipse Michael Knill’s all-time mark of 47 and failed, Archambault’s effort still stands as the second-highest total ever.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The 17th overall pick in 2017, Archambault contributed six special teams tackle in nine games as a rookie with the Ticats. Injuries have hindered him since then, holding him to just one game in 2016, while rumours swirl that retirement could be on the table.

THE FINISH LINE
CFL COMBINE, 2016

In one of the combine’s marquee events, the finish line at the 40-yard-dash is a popular spot as GMs and scouts swarm to collect hand-timed results. Ted Goveia, Chris Jones and Geroy Simon are among those pictured below:

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

NOEL BURSTS ONTO THE SCENE
CFL COMBINE, 2016

With a 36-inch vertical and a 4.38 40-time, Llevi Noel came to the combine in 2016 and showed he was one of the most athletic prospects around.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Drafted in the fourth round 31st overall, Noel earned a reputation as a relentless special teams player while also pushing for playing time as a receiver in his rookie season. He could become a major cog for recently-hired Marc Trestman in 2017.

TAYLOR LOFFLER
CFL COMBINE, 2016

With an injury-riddled past, Taylor Loffler came into the 2016 combine and erased any doubts he’s a top CFL prospect, dominating in the one-on-ones vs. receivers on Sunday afternoon. He’s seen below making a diving interception, one of the weekend’s signature moments:

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Despite his strong combine showing and 11th overall ranking, Loffler fell to the third round, going 19th overall to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It looks like the Bombers got a steal — Loffler was a CFL All-Star in 2016 and emerged as one of the league’s top safeties in the process.

LIVING LEGENDS
CFL COMBINE, 2014

In a timeless photo, three CFL legends — Wally Buono, Bob O’Billovich and Geroy Simon — share a laugh during an interview with a prospect. The interview process is an integral part of the combine as coaches and GMs get a sense of a prospect’s character and personality among other intangibles.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

FOOTBALL FACTORY
CFL COMBINE, 2016

Laval’s Philippe Gagnon is pictured below concentrating moments before putting up 40 reps on the bench press. Gagnon became just the fifth player ever to reach 40, moving into a tie for third all-time. And perhaps just as impressive, all five players from Laval achieved at least 20 reps.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Gagnon became the Alouettes’ starting left guard, starting all 18 games as a rookie in 2016. The 24-year-old looks like a long-term building block on the Als’ new-look offensive front.

SHAQ ATTACK
CFL COMBINE, 2016

Western’s Shaq Johnson, seen below running the 3-cone, was an intriguing prospect last year after earning a last-minute invite from the Toronto Regional Combine. On the day before the national combine, Johnson had a 4.391 40-time and an 11-foot broad jump.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Johnson parlayed his regional combine success to the national combine and eventually the draft, becoming the 32nd overall pick by the Lions in 2016. He’ll look to take on a greater offensive role this season.

TESTING MONSTER
CFL COMBINE, 2016

How do you go from the 18th-ranked prospect to the fourth overall pick? Ask Brian Jones, who did it a year ago after flat out dominating at the CFL Combine. Jones showed superior strength, speed and overall athleticism, seemingly raising his stock overnight.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Jones became the fourth overall pick by the Argos, eventually drawing starts at slotback later in the season. The 22-year-old, who checks in at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, was a regular contributor on special teams, even blocking a punt. He’ll be a big part of the Argos’ future plans.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD
CFL COMBINE, 2016

Dave Dickenson (left) and John Hufnagel (right) chat during prospect interviews at the 2016 combine. While John Hufnagel was the Stamps’ head coach for eight years, last off-season signified a changing of the guard as Dickenson took over the head coaching role for the first time.

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The first-time head coach and GM tandem led the Stamps to one of the most impressive regular seasons in CFL history, a 13-2-1 run that led Calgary back to an appearance in the 104th Grey Cup Championship.