As CFL teams begin to post daily content building momentum towards the 2023 CFL season, there are still some major events to be crossed off the to do list before we kickoff training camp with team colours flying proudly again in anticipation of an 18-game battle to Grey Cup supremacy.
Free Agency is the talk of February, but the second the calendar flips to March, I feel the Combine juices flowing.
Of course I’m well behind the 125 athletes selected to participate in the Invitational and CFL Combines. At this point they’ve been locked in at the gym or indoor track for months in an attempt to perfect their hand placement, the best way to get off the line in the 40-yard dash, or ways to trick their chest and shoulders into posting a big number on the bench press.
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» Invitational Combine roster
» CFL Combine (National roster)
» CFL Combine (Global roster)
» Combine 101: The basics behind each prospect drill
» Invitational Combine opens door for draft hopefuls
A lot goes into combine preparation. I know.
Despite being a lacklustre athlete at best, I was fortunate to have exceptional support staff and guidance around me while preparing for the East-West Bowl Combine and week of practice a decade ago. My preparation included months of study and body training all to shave hundredths of a second off speed tests.
Everyone’s goals are different and mine were essentially to not look out of place and survive the athletic testing component before putting pads on and playing the game I love. Others go in with a much more aggressive and purposeful intention: to dominate.
The first opportunity to put that preparation and mindset to the test comes for 76 football players on Friday at the CFL Invitational Combine.
With the ‘big show’ lingering at the end of the month in Edmonton, there are plane and hotel tickets on the line for these players as they attempt to earn their way past the entry level stage of CFL decision maker courting.
Many of the top decision makers in the CFL revel in these lower hyped events. Combines are a raw environment filled with competition and camaraderie. They’re a strange mix of rivalry between players who dissented each other all year and healthy adoration for each other’s abilities. Again, this comes from the guy who already told you his goal was simply to survive so take it with a grain of salt and acknowledge that the cold hearted hunters amongst CFL Combine fields likely see nothing more than an open door awaiting their progression towards a professional football career.
The process at large is one of the world’s strangest and most vulnerable job interviews.
Imagine in your field of work (teacher, construction worker, nurse, etc.) where the chances you had to get a call asking to accept an employer’s job offer was determined by feats of physical strength, speed and agility in front of multiple employers. The entire setup is chaotic, primal and makes for great theatre.
My favourite part of the CFL Combine process is when matchups begin to develop as the day goes on that I know I want to see, and coaches or general managers have the ability to bring to life.
A defensive end might blow the roof off the place with testing numbers, while a receiver surprises many with above expected performance. These two positions typically wouldn’t line up against each other other than in-game on a block but the CFL Combine, specifically the special teams drills, give coaches the chance to request one-on-one matchups for players to battle physically to prove their ability to step up to the challenge when called upon in short notice.
For all the bodily stress and preparation that comes into play in these intensity filled sessions, the mental games far exceed any other requirement.
For all these reasons and many more it is time to celebrate the return of Combine season. This time of year is an annual right of passage for the country’s best and brightest draft eligible players to bring a mountain of personal experience and adversity into the building and leave with more challenges ahead to maintain their football dream or, for a lucky few, the knowledge that their next big test lies straight ahead in Edmonton at the big showcase.