May 12, 2024

O’Leary: How Shamawd Chambers impacts CFL present, future

Jason Halstead/

Shamawd Chambers is six years removed from playing in the CFL but his fingerprints will be on the 2024 season when it kicks off on June 6.

Chambers’ impact on teams will be felt starting today, as camps open across the league and players begin to make their respective cases for roster spots and their pursuit of the 111th Grey Cup.

Numerous players across the league have worked out and trained with Out The Chamber Sports, a venture that Chambers has built up since 2020. Chambers has overseen on-field training sessions with some of the CFL’s top players this off-season, including Zach Collaros, Bo Levi Mitchell, Tre and Tyrell Ford, Jake Kelly, Kaion Julien Grant, Devonte Dedmon, Clark Barnes and more.

“There are core guys that I’ve been working with for three years now. I’ve been working with Kurleigh Gittens Jr., with Tevaughn Smith and Kian Schaffer-Baker. I’ve known Kian since he was 14, but I’ve been working with those guys for the last three years. So they’ve kind of helped me build the base and help me bring other people to it,” Chambers said on Friday, a day after he’d given a speech in Waterloo at the East West Bowl banquet.

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“It’s so natural (of a fit) because I understand what they need to be doing,” he said of working with CFL players. “And I have good relationships with coaches in the league and I still actively talk to them. SoI have a good idea of what they want to see and I try to make sure the guys are competing.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things that CFL coaches want to see, especially for the Canadian guys. You build an environment where there’s a lot of competition and you help people that when they get to camp, they’re already used to that.”

While those names mentioned above are the ones you’ll hear from PA announcers and see on your screens for the next six months, Chambers is working diligently with teenaged and university-level players, with his reach growing to span across the country, thinking about the names that we’ll hear in stadiums and see on screens over the next 10 years and beyond.

Out The Chamber’s Instagram page is loaded with young players that he’s worked with that are receiving exposure to and getting interest from American high school programs like the IMG Academy in Florida, or Div I and II NCAA programs. In addition to the star-level CFL players that he sees in the off-season, he’s gradually building up a pipeline of talent that’s making its way into the CFL. It’s a matter of time before that pipeline points itself toward the NFL, too.

As a player, Chambers starred at Wilfrid Laurier, before being chosen sixth overall in the 2012 CFL Draft by Edmonton. He was a key piece of Edmonton’s Grey Cup-winning squad in 2015 and was named that game’s Most Valuable Canadian.

He looks back on his development as a player and cites some time spent training in Florida with former NFL and CFL defensive lineman Vaughn Martin during his third year at Laurier as a pivotal moment.

“I flew down to Florida and I was out there training. Working with (Martin) and a bunch of NFL guys,” Chambers said. “Eric Berry’s out there. Kareem Jackson is out there, Pierre Garcon is out there. Cris Carter is the receivers coach. That’s my first experience with a pro, talking to somebody who’s a pro.”

He learned a lesson there that day, something that he’d hear other pros say as he made his way through his career. Those players would arrive in expensive cars, were wearing expensive clothes, maybe had expensive chains and watches. But their cleats were the same as everyone else’s. Learning he could play alongside anyone, while having professional players to emulate was a turning point for him and one he wished he could have gotten at a younger age. That’s a driving force in his work today.

He recalls randomly messaging C.J. Gable when he was starring at USC, asking him for advice on how he could improve. Today, he’s happy to tell a 14-year-old kid and their parents, as someone that’s seen all levels of professional talent, just what could be in that kid’s future.

“There’s a lot of people up here that just don’t know,” Chambers said.

To expand his reach across the country to help young football talent, Chambers has partnered with his former Edmonton teammate, Odell Willis, his former Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant, former CFL receiver Kito Poblah and Saskatchewan Roughriders running backs coach Anthony Vitale. Along with the help of Shelby Weaver, the director of basketball operations and culture for the Toronto Raptors and Kevin Nelson, the autonomous manager for global markets at Komatsu, their non-profit organization puts on the Canadian Football High School Showcase. Held in Edmonton in March, the inaugural edition of the Showcase saw 10 athletes receive offers from high schools or NCAA programs.

“We’re looking to be able to identify kids from all provinces, with the idea to have events and having a big mega-combine where we bring coaches from all over North America, is what we’re looking to have next year,” he said.

Football is the obvious connection for Chambers, but his work over the last four years has led him to crossing paths with and training promising young hockey players and established pros alike. While a job in a CFL front office is always intriguing to him, he’s finding immense satisfaction in talent identification and development; especially when the Canadian football landscape is still such an untapped resource. For now, at least.

“I have a very good knowledge of the game and what needs to happen at multiple levels for it to get to where it needs to go,” he said.

“We have great talent up here but we need to be able to be all together with how we’re going to develop these kids. I think it’s important. I’m coaching a U-14 group. When I was 14-years old, I never saw anyone like me coming to practice that played pro football and (said that) I could reach that, I never saw that. It took me until I was a pro to be coached by a pro. That’s too long.”

Chambers’ outlook on the 2024 season

After working closely with a number of CFL players through this winter, Chambers has a unique perspective on where things could go for players and their teams in 2024. Here are few people he said we should be watching as camps open up today.

“I think Kian Schaffer-Baker‘s going to have a great year. Obviously if he stays healthy, that’s the name of the game for everybody. I think Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is primed to have a good year, especially being back with Mac (McLeod Bethel-Thompson in Edmonton) and I know he’s very eager to get out and prove himself again. Getting hurt last year and then getting moved. I know he wants to be able to get out there and prove himself.

“Obviously we know Zach (Collaros) is going to have a good year again, there’s a lot of good things around him in Winnipeg.

“You know who I think is going to have a good season? He’s a second year DB: Jake Kelly. That kid’s an athlete, he’s a fantastic athlete. He’s an absolute workhorse and I’m certain that he’s going to have a good season this year.”

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