May 8, 2024

O’Leary: Rookie camps get the 2024 season rolling

The Canadian Press

Around a year ago at this time, Qwan’tez Stiggers was first setting foot on the field at the University of Guelph for the Toronto Argonauts’ rookie camp. Just 21 then, the defensive back came to Canada with no prior college experience and had only played in the Fan Controlled Football League.

We all know what came next. Stiggers took the CFL by storm, first winning a roster spot in camp, then getting interceptions in his first two games. He finished the year with 53 tackles and five interceptions and rolled to a Most Outstanding Rookie Award win. His good fortune had only started to accumulate at that point. Still NFL Draft eligible, Stiggers was selected by the New York Jets in the fifth round of this year’s draft. His story has become one of the best from this draft class,  with Stiggers giving a long/short version to reporters at the Jets’ facilities this past week.

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All of that to say that as rookie camps open this morning and teams start to welcome this year’s crop of new-to-the-CFL players, there are almost certainly people taking the field for every team in the league that will help shape the story of the 2024 CFL season.

Last year it was Stiggers in Toronto and defensive back Kai Gray in Edmonton, who went on to be the West nominee for Outstanding Rookie. There was Austin Mack in Montreal, whose highlight reel receptions helped the Als to their first Grey Cup win since 2010. Opportunity exists in Mack’s vacated roster spot with the Als, after he signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the off-season.

In 2022, it was Dalton Schoen landing in the Bombers’ rookie camp, determined to play his way into the CFL. He ended the season with the league lead in receiving yards and the Most Outstanding Rookie Award and has become a key piece of the Bombers’ offence.

Rookie camps as a whole mark opportunity. Through the rest of this week, we’ll see a mix of American players and recent National and Global draft picks work to learn the nuances of the Canadian game, getting them to a good base level of preparedness ahead of training camps officially opening on Sunday, May 12.

Players like Dalton Schoen have come through rookie camps and added depth to their position group and helped their teams to wins (Matt Smith/

Some of the answers to teams’ biggest off-season questions could be in these camps. The Ottawa REDBLACKS’ running back? The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ right tackle? They could be putting in the work this week, ready to serve as answers to these off-season questions. There are also always players in these camps that surprise their teams and create position battles in main camps. News of the surprise cuts that await us all at the end of training camp in a few weeks time have those seeds planted in rookie camp.

While teams begin to evaluate the talent in front of them and start to gauge the work their front offices put in over the off-season, rookie camps also finally get the ball rolling on the 2024 season. It’s been 172 days since the Alouettes have lifted the Grey Cup; an entire winter season — even if it was generally milder than most — has come and gone. The season, complete with budding trees and sunny days, goes hand-in-hand with the optimism that emanates from the nine camps across the league right now.

Rookie camps are open and if you’re a fan of the CFL, all of the good things are in front of you. The CFL news cycle will start up again in full swing and our first preseason game, with the Bombers visiting the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is just 12 days away. This is in many ways the best time of the year.

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