Photo: Guelph Athletics
When you have a situation like the one that Siriman Harrison Bagayogo and Clarke Barnes have had with the Guelph Gryphons, it can be described in a couple of ways.
One is that iron sharpens iron and that Bagayogo — a two-time All-Canadian defensive back — and Barnes — a receiver and returner with tons of pro potential — have only helped each other improve as they’ve crossed paths in practice over the last three seasons.
Another way to look at it is what great teams across all sports say about those practices. When your day-to-day competition is that good, there’s no better prep for game days. That’s also found its way into the lead in to the CFL Draft, where the six-foot-two, 203-pound Bagayogo was ranked 11th in the winter edition of the CFL’s Scouting Bureau and Barnes, six-foot-two and 200 pounds, was ranked 14th.
Bagayogo is the third-highest rated DB on the list, while Barnes is the second-highest rated receiver. They’ll both be in Edmonton from March 22-26 for the CFL Combine presented by New Era.
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“It helps a lot,” Barnes said on a recent media call, with Bagayogo sharing the split screen with him.
“Of course, Siriman being a two-time first-team All Canadian at that boundary corner spot, it’s the best that we have to offer in U SPORTS in the nation. So me being able to get that day-in day-out at practice and having to go against competition like that, it just makes it so much easier to go out and do what I have to do on Sundays, when it’s really probably somebody not as gifted as (Bagayogo) going in there.
“Especially a talent like him where he has the size strength and he still has the ability to move like a small guy, you got to use for me, everything in your bag. You get to (try) certain things. I know a lot of times you go in against certain corners, you have to use some different skill in your bag that would benefit you in that matchup. But with (Bagayogo), it’s really everything that you have to tap into to be able to win in certain situations. So it helps a lot, definitely.”
Bagayogo remembered how much Barnes helped him when he first arrived at Guelph in 2019.
“He really helped me craft my man coverage because he was coming from an NCAA-type of skill player,” he said of his teammate.
“He’s fast, really quick. His skill off the line was different than most of the receivers I’d seen in my life. Going against him every time…I was getting beat — I’m not going to lie — a lot. Toward the end of practice I would be better because he was giving me tips about how to do this and do that. From there I was able to craft my skill. He helped me a lot.”
Bagayogo’s success in a relatively short time at Guelph is only more impressive when you look at his football journey. A great athlete growing up in Bois-des-Filion, QC, Bagayogo played hockey as a kid, then jumped over to soccer and basketball but didn’t play any high school football. He essentially got into the game on a dare, trying to prove to a football-playing cousin that basketball players were better athletes than football players.
He laughs now when he recalls it, adding that the last few years have changed his mind.
His interest in the game sparked from that one practice, Bagayogo found a local football showcase through a Facebook page, impressed there and got an offer to join the CEGEP program at Champlain College.
His new dream sent him on an uphill battle. At Champlain, he was studying in English for the first time, while formally learning how to play football. Everything about the sport: from rules to technique, the jargon of the game, came blasting out of a firehose and Bagayogo somehow managed to drink it all in.
“The hardest part was getting the knowledge of the game. Football is not like soccer, hockey, where (the objective) was just score. Put the ball or the puck in the net,” he remembered.
“Now there’s so much rules, there’s so much stuff you can’t do, stuff that you have to do. It was a lot to get the first time. I was making a lot of mistakes that people at that level don’t do. It was hard for me. I was staying late after practice to get myself ready, to get myself to that level, then also the school was hard.
“Sometimes I was crying in my bed, ‘Damn, this is hard.’ The school, the football. I wanted to play and I wasn’t even dressing but I had a lot of coaches around me that helped me.”
He credits the coaching he got at Champlain for getting him in the door at Guelph.
“I think I had good support, that’s why I’m able to be where I’m at and obviously it was hard but that’s what I do,” he said.
Inevitably, Bagayogo and Barnes will cross paths at the CFL Combine. Having gone against each other in practices for the last few years is one thing; lining up with pro scouts, coaches and GMs watching and assessing your pro-readiness could be another entirely.
“It’s not going to be different,” Barnes said. “In practice, we’re competing for real and going 100 per cent and trying to beat each other so we can get better. It’s not going to be any different, really. We’re going 100 per cent and we’re not going to take any offence to it, most definitely not.”