March 10, 2023

O’Leary: SMU shines at Invitational Combine

Kevin Sousa/

Wins are hard to come by for a U SPORTS football coach in March, but Steve Sumarah found one last week.

On the heels of his first season back at Saint Mary’s University after a 10-year stay with the Carleton Ravens, Sumarah learned that the number of his Huskies players attending the CFL Combine in Edmonton had just jumped from one to four.

Defensive back Jassin States-McClean already had the invite to the national event, which will be held from March 22-26 in Edmonton, Alta.

After last week’s Invitational Combine, he’ll be joined in the Alberta capital by tight end Sebastian Howard, linebacker Markcus Jean-Loescher and defensive end Aidan John. The trio were a part of a group of 12 selected out of the combine, which competed against 64 other hopefuls at the University of Waterloo.

With that bump in attendance, the Huskies are the best-represented school in the Atlantic University Sport conference.

CFL COMBINE presented by New Era
 12 players advance from Invitational Combine
» Invitational Combine results
» Guelph’s Bagayogo, Barnes, ready for CFL Combine
» Ferguson: Five to watch from the Invitational Combine

Jassin States-McClean was the sole Huskies player initially invited to the CFL Combine. He’ll now be joined by three of his teammates (Saint Mary’s Athletics)

“I have to give credit to those before me as well, because I started started reasonably late,” Sumarah said. He took the head coaching gig at SMU on June 8, 2022.

“Those guys have gone in and they worked hard. Our strength coach, Erin Craig has done a really phenomenal job with them, having prepared them and got them ready,” Sumarah said. “So I think you’re going to see more and more St. Mary’s guys going forward, for sure.”

The pride in his players came through in his voice as he described their attributes.

“Whatever the challenge is, he’ll find a way to raise his game,” he said of States-McClean. “That’s the part I think that was most impressive with him, is that all season long, whatever challenge he was provided, he just took another step forward.”

The six-foot-two, 185-pound defensive back had no interceptions last year but managed five pass breakups. Sumarah said offences avoided him in 2022 and that made it hard on him on a number of fronts.

“His All-Canadian tape was very interesting because it was like, probably six clips of (playing against) St. FX in Game 1. Then he struggled to find clips,” Sumarah said. “He didn’t have stats, but sometimes as a corner not having stats is a feather in your cap anyway because it tells you that well, are you getting beat? No? Then no one’s going after you.”

Of his three players advancing from Waterloo last week, Sumarah said he could see why tight end Sebastian Howard — all six-foot-six and 235 pounds of him — would warrant a deeper look from scouts in two weeks’ time in Edmonton.

“The intriguing thing with Sebastian is he’s a phenomenal athlete,” he said. “He moved into a new position last year with us and there was a bit of a learning curve with him. But when you match him talent-for-talent, I do not think there’s a guy in the country that would have his type of talent.”

That’s not to say there won’t be someone with more experience or that tests better, the coach said. But in terms of overall athleticism, “he’s going to be hard to not want to have drafted,” Sumarah continued.

“When people actually see him…obviously the first round (the Invitational Combine) they saw him in order and thought, ‘Oh holy crap.’ I think when they see him again it’ll be like, ‘Oh wow.’ This guy really, truly is somebody that’s going to bring something special to the table.”

Markcus Jean-Loescher could use special teams as a doorway to a long CFL career (Kevin Sousa/

With linebacker Markcus Jean-Loescher, Sumarah sees a player that could get his foot in the door with a CFL club on special teams, then work his way into something more.

“He’ll impress enough that someone is going to want to keep him,” he said. “He can run down the field, he can make tackles, he can block. He’ll be one of the highly-recruited guys, because linebacker obviously is a very traditional Canadian position and he does check a lot of boxes that guys are going to be like, ‘Yeah, we want him.'”

Aidan John was an immediate standout in the one-on-one portion of last week’s combine, drawing a crowd with each of his matchups. Sumarah first worked with the six-foot-three, 248-pound defensive end with the national team a few years back and reunited with him at St. Mary’s this past season. He led the Huskies in total tackles, with 29. He added two pass breakups and a forced fumble through seven games.

“You can see his talent,” Sumarah said.

“He’s still raw, but him being raw had him as the top pass rusher in the Invitational Combine. I think he’s going to have a long career. His only challenge will be if teams are prepared to start a Canadian defensive end.

“I truly believe he can walk in and play at that level.”

Having these four players get a shot at the next level provides that rare off-season win for Sumarah. It might help drive home some of his in-season messaging to his players as they get to know him more as a head coach in his second season leading the Huskies.

That two of his four Combine-bound players — States-McClean and John — are from Halifax felt extra good for the local coach.

“This is phenomenal with both those guys,” Sumarah said. ” Being able to highlight to the local kid, like, hey, you know, hard work pays off and there is a pathway to futures and long term football successes.”

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