March 1, 2023

Invitational Combine opens door for Draft hopefuls

Photo: Cornell Athletics

TORONTO — In a year that’s full of change for the CFL Combine presented by New Era, what were known as the league’s regional combines will look slightly different this year too.

The CFL Invitational Combine takes place on Friday, March 3 at the University of Waterloo. It replaces the Western, Eastern and Ontario-specific regional combines of past, bringing together 76 draft-eligible prospects that will compete for invites to the National Combine, which runs from March 22-26 in Edmonton, Alta.

The National event will operate under a new format this year, but the structure of the Invitational Combine will remain the same as the regional events in years past. Participants will put in a full day of measurements, testing and one-on-one showcases for CFL scouts, coaches and general managers, before finding out at the end of the day which of them will make the trip to Edmonton for further evaluation and an increased chance of being selected in the 2023 CFL Draft on May 2.

The Invitational/Regional Combine has become an important tool in the scouting cycle leading into the CFL Draft. Last year’s second overall pick, offensive lineman Zack Pelehos, came out of the Eastern Regional Combine, while Ontario Regional participant and defensive lineman Enoch Penney-Laryea was a third-round pick in 2022.

Invitational Combine roster
CFL Combine (National roster)
» CFL Combine (Global roster)
» Combine 101: The basics behind each prospect drill
» Chase Brown retains top spot in Scouting Bureau’s winter edition

The CFL Invitational Combine provides exposure for players not invited to the National Combine in late March (Christian Bender/

Defensive back Jermaine Gabriel, receiver Shaq Johnson, linebacker D.J. Lalama, running back Ante Litre and receiver Luther Hakunavanhu have also walked through the door opened by this opportunity.

You can get live event updates from Waterloo on Friday here at, with additional coverage of the day on our social media channels. While there could always be a surprise player ready to take the day by storm, here are a few players that we think could make some noise on Friday.

Jacob Biggs, defensive back, Calgary Dinos

The six-foot, 190 pound fourth-year Dino was sixth on the team with 28 total tackles last season and had a team-best five pass breakups. Biggs has career totals of three interceptions, 98 total tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery through 32 games for his hometown Dinos.

Javonni Cunningham, receiver/returner, Cornell Big Red

A Canadian citizen thanks to his father, Jimmy ‘The Jet’ Cunningham — Javonni was born in Vancouver when Jimmy played for the BC Lions — Javonni showed off his speed at Cornell in the return game for the Cornell Big Red, but didn’t see the field a lot as a receiver. The five-foot-11, 185-pounder seems to have inherited his father’s speed. While his stats are limited to just 16 games, eight catches and 16 yards over three seasons, he did post an average of 22.5 yards on 32 kick returns. Having been an all-county selection as a sprinter at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, GA, he could be a great fit on the large fields of the CFL.

Josh Hyer, defensive lineman, Calgary Dinos

Hyer, six-foot-four and 260 pounds, tied for the team lead in sacks (two) on the Dinos last season and was seventh on the team in total tackles, with 21.5. Those sack totals were good for a fifth-place tie in the Canada West conference. Through 32 career games, Hyer has 49 total tackles (42 solo), 5.5 sacks for 39 yards, three pass deflections and a fumble recovery.

Toronto’s Tolu Ahmed will look to showcase his speed to CFL teams on Friday, with hopes of getting an invite to the National Combine (Photo: University of Toronto Athletics)

Tolu Ahmed, defensive back, Toronto Varsity Blues

A speedy cornerback heading into his fifth season of eligibility with the Varsity Blues, Ahmed ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash as a freshman in his 2018 season. Last year he had 16 total tackles and a pass deflection in seven games. Through four seasons and 23 games, the six-foot-three, 190-pound Ottawa native has 72 total tackles, 12 pass deflections and a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Ethan Mastin, defensive back, St. Francis Xavier X-Men

Friday will mark another thumbtack stuck in the map of Mastin’s football journey. Born in Chilliwack, BC, the six-foot, 180-pounder has spent his university career on the other side of the country in Antigonish, N.S. Through four seasons with the X-Men, Mastin has six interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 75.5 total tackles, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He was part of an 8-0 St. FX team in 2022 that won its second consecutive AUS title. He’ll look to make his next football trip a stop in Edmonton later this month, before trying to convince a CFL team to take him in this year’s draft.

Keeping an eye on the o-line

Two offensive linemen that could make the leap from Waterloo to Edmonton on Friday are Minot State product Troy Kowal and Regina’s Parker Hodel.

Kowal stands at a towering six-foot-six and weighs 295 pounds. The High River, Alta. product played left and right tackle at Minot State and was a three-year captain.

Hodel, six-foot-five and 320 pounds, played right tackle for the Rams, while being named an academic All-Canadian twice as an engineering major. He’ll look to bring those smarts to a CFL team this season.

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