March 8, 2024

O’Leary: Maryse Dazé-Wilson runs the combine show

Christian Bender/

A football combine is a beehive of activity. Simultaneously there are dozens of bodies cycling through measuring stations, testing and head-to-head competition. Before they set foot in that venue, all of those athletes needed registration and their hotels sorted.

While they were at the Feridun Hamdullahpur Field House at the University of Waterloo, they had to eat, as did all of the scouts, coaches and general managers evaluating players. Media at the event needed wifi and working spaces. Upward of 100 people will have moved through Friday’s events, focused on their respective tasks at hand, most of them unaware of the hours of planning and work that have enabled it.

At the centre of that beehive of activity is Maryse Dazé-Wilson, the CFL’s senior manager of football operations. From a logistical standpoint, she’s the backbone of Friday’s combine running smoothly.

She’ll do the same for the CFL Combine presented by New Era after taking the league through its president and general manager meetings in Nashville in January and will run the show on the induction of this year’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame class.

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“Ultimately, our job is to give them the best professional sports experience that they’ll ever have in their life,” Dazé-Wilson said. “If this is their only touchpoint with our league, we want them to think like they are the best of the best, that they’re treated like professionals.”

For Dazé-Wilson, it was nice that International Women’s Day fell on the day of the Invitational Combine. With all of that activity going on around her, her focus stayed on the task at hand and with the bigger combine later this month in Winnipeg.

“I think what really sits with me is to ensure that everyone has a first class experience where from the moment they land, in this year Winnipeg, to when they leave is is that they’re taken care of and they’re treated as professionals,” she said. That covers everything from coaches having adequate interview space to meet with prospects, down to name plates in the locker room for CFL staff that are working the event.

“I feel like I’m in the middle of a star and there’s branches around me and my job is to make sure that it turns it goes around really smoothly and to make sure that everyone has the best experience they possibly can.”

A look around the field house on Friday at Waterloo shows that a male-female discrepancy is still obvious. While she’d like to see the number grow in the future, Dazé-Wilson feels she’s supported in her role with football operations.

“The group that we work with are all very inclusive, our CFL clubs are all very inclusive and they don’t treat us any differently,” she said.

“It’s a welcoming environment and it’s a really empowering environment because we get to have an impact with our jobs without being anything else. We’re just people that are in the league and we’re just there to do our jobs and to support the players to make sure they have a great experience. Hopefully we encourage another generation of women (in) telling our story of, ‘We can do this. There is room for us. There is opportunity.'”

Maryse Dazé-Wilson’s daughter Brooklynn emulated BC Lions’ assistant defensive backs coach Tanya Henderson last year in a combine practice in Edmonton (Christian Bender/

For Dazé-Wilson, that next generation is right in front of her. Her 4.5-year-old daughter Brooklynn is growing up watching her mom thrive in a football environment. At last year’s combine in Edmonton, Brooklynn saw BC Lions’ assistant defensive backs coach Tanya Henderson working and hauling equipment around as during one of the prospects’ practise sessions. It didn’t take long for the toddler to soon emulate what the first-ever full-time female coaching hire in CFL history was doing. The moment wasn’t lost on Dazé-Wilson.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “To her it’s just a normal thing that we do. I think it’s introducing that normalcy into it. We’re all proud to be women in sport, we’ll never stop fighting of course, but it’s about making it into a normal thing. The CFL is a platform for me, so far. My experience has been it’s a platform to be normal in any department. You’ll fit in and you’re not going to have to fight so hard for it.”

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