March 25, 2023

O’Leary: Aidan John aims for a path to the Draft

Christian Bender/

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Elks already knew about Aidan John when they got to the CFL’s Invitational Combine three weeks ago. They still weren’t ready for what they saw when he got onto the field in Waterloo.

“He was the best looking guy there,” Edmonton Elks general manager and head coach Chris Jones said of John. “Six-four, lanky, fast. And he played so hard.”

The Saint Mary’s Huskies’ defensive lineman immediately jumped out in the one-on-ones at Waterloo. Here in Edmonton, he’s continued to do the same. After a strong showing on Saturday at the field house at Commonwealth Stadium, John, who measured six-foot-three-and-a-half and 248 pounds, received an hounourable mention from coaches when they voted on the top defensive player of the day (the nod went to linebacker Michael Brodrique of the Montreal Carabins).

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John had a strong second day at the CFL Combine and received an honourable mention in the coaches’ picks in Day 2 of practice (Christian Bender/

“He was actually a little better (at the Invitational Combine) than what we thought,” Jones said. “He was a little more polished than we’d envisioned.

“He’s a good kid. He’s got a lot of measurables that people look for, with the length and the speed. The thing I’m most impressed with is his tenaciousness. He plays extremely hard, every drill he’s first in line. He’s done some really good things and has impressed a lot of people, I’m sure.”

John’s path to the combine in Edmonton hasn’t been a simple Point A to Point B trip. He initially committed to Western University, then left that program and went to St. Mary’s, played a year for his hometown program and stepped away from the game. When Steve Sumarah took the head coaching gig at St. Mary’s, he remembered coaching John on Team Canada and reached out to him and got him back in uniform.

“His story is very unique in the sense that he wasn’t even playing football the last couple of years,” Sumarah said. “He’s now got an opportunity…and you can see his talent. He probably thought his time (in football) was up, but boy, it sure isn’t.”

John’s love for the game never wavered, even if he wasn’t on a roster at points in the past. Back on the field in 2022, his 29 total tackles led the Huskies.

Talking with him in Edmonton, the first thing that jumped out was his sense of belonging at the CFL Combine.

“At Waterloo I felt like I was kind of out of place,” he said. “I felt like this is my environment, with higher talented players and playing with the best, obviously, who doesn’t want to?”

Playing amongst the best the last two days, John has only looked like he belongs. Players from Regional Combines have made the leap to the league in the past, most recently with Zack Pelehos going second overall in 2022 and Jordan Williams going first overall in 2020. There’s still a day of practice, with some 12-on-12 work to go on Sunday, but John seems to have at least put himself on a track to hear his name called on May 2 at the CFL Draft.

“He hasn’t been playing a ton of football, but he’s got some God-given tools as far as his length and his athleticism,” Toronto Argonauts’ defensive coordinator and d-line coach Corey Mace said of John.

“He had to earn his way here going through the (Invitational) and he showed out well for a guy that didn’t get the main invite. I think he definitely belongs in this group and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. I know he’s still young and has years of eligibility left. As the kid gains some more experience and more confidence, the sky’s the limit for him.”

Saturday was a good day for Halifax-bred football players. John was on the opposite side of the ball from Queen’s offensive lineman Theo Grant. They grew up in Halifax and played high school football together. They reunited at the Invitational Combine in Waterloo, and have shared the field with another former high school teammate, in defensive back Jassin States-McClean.

Grant was named the coach’s pick for top offensive player of the day on Saturday.

“I’m always looking to go up against the top guys, so I think from watching the edge rushers if I were to line up at tackle I’d think Aidan John and (UBC d-lineman) Lake Korte-Moore would be the best ones,” Grant said earlier on Saturday.

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