March 16, 2019

Behind Closed Doors: The art of the interview at the CFL Combine

Jason Halstead/

A quick 40-yard dash time or an impressive one-on-one session at the CFL Combine presented by New Era might not mean much if a prospect doesn’t ace their interviews.

While the CFL Combine is an opportunity for prospects to put their athletic abilities on display for general managers and scouts with a series of drills, it’s also a chance for them to showcase their personalities.

Any team that may be interested in a prospect will invite them to an interview where a panel consisting of general managers and coaches will get to know more about each hopeful. Do well in your interview by showing off your determination, discipline and your ability to work as a member of a team and your draft stock could improve.

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The Calgary Stampeders conduct an interview with a prospect in 2016 (Johany Jutras/

“It might be as important as anything at the combine,” Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Popp said of the interview process over the phone on Wednesday. “To sit down and talk to an individual, and we try to talk to every single player for a period of time and get to know them a little bit better, find out some key questions we have for them and what their response is to it.

“Some players you’ve already had conversations with and some you’ve never have, or never met. All elements of this is important to try to come up with who you want to draft or who you think best fits your locker room or your schemes.”

Not only does the interview help each CFL team understand the personalities they may be adding to their squad, it also allows the teams to see how the prospects handle themselves under pressure, what they do on a day-to-day basis and their commitment to making the jump to the next level. Anything can be asked. No question is off limits.

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“(I want to find out) what their daily routines are, how they eat, what their regimen is, how much they study,” said Popp. “I like hearing what they ask because you really can understand the intelligence of a football player, and when I say that, it could be street smart to football knowledge. (I want to see) what they really do with themselves on a daily basis to prepare to be a professional athlete.”

Justin Howell remembers his interview process at last year’s CFL Combine well. He chatted with five of nine teams, including the Ottawa REDBLACKS, who ended up drafting the defensive back in the seventh round (55th overall). REDBLACKS general manager Marcel Desjardins had fun with his team’s interview sessions in 2018, showing prospects a box of donuts and asking them which donut they identified with and why.

Even though he was prepared for these fun questions, Howell didn’t get asked any (including the donut question).

“The interview process was definitely one of my favourite parts of the combine,” Howell said over the phone earlier in the month. “It was a little nerve wracking at first. You walk into a room and you have all these coaches and execs that you’ve grown up watching on TV and now you’re essentially interviewing for a job with them. It was pretty good after you settle in. Just be yourself and have a conversation and let them know who you are basically.”

Just like any job interview, preparation is key. Knowing about the Canadian Football League, the coaching staffs and even the schemes that are run on both sides of the ball are all important for prospects to know before walking into the interview room.

Justin Howell participates in the bench press at the 2018 CFL Combine (Jason Halstead/

“I did my homework as far as knowing who was on the coaching staff,” said Howell. “The other thing I did throughout the off-season was I watched film on all nine CFL teams and their defences. Just trying to get the sense of who they play and where and what kind of schemes they run so that I could show them that I had the knowledge of that and I did my own research and homework and kind of had an understanding of what their team’s about and what their defence is about.”

“I remember Ed Hervey asked me near the end of the interview who Coach Maas was,” Edmonton Eskimos defensive end Kwaku Boateng said in an interview with just before the 2018 National Combine. “It’s not really a curve ball if you did your research. But for sure, if you don’t know the personnel in that room when you just go in there blind, you may not know who he is and he could be the person interviewing you. If you don’t answer correctly, that could be a big no-no on your resume.”

Boateng, who was drafted in the fifth round (41st overall) in the 2017 CFL Draft, says that the key to doing well in your interviews is simple: be yourself and tell the truth.

“Just be honest,” Boateng said. “The last thing you want to do is tell a lie and then that can cause a snowball effect and now you have to lie to all nine teams. Just being honest with yourself and not going in there too confident.”