The Canadian Press
Each year when the CFL Draft comes to a close around midnight ET time you can feel the collective exhale of all involved. Months of prep and travel, combine to combine and zoom to zoom come to a close as players finally have a team to call their own.
So, then everybody just settles in and gets set for training camps right? Despite what you might assume from the common discussion on social media there is actually a huge, landmark event in the Canadian football calendar happening in what many think is the ‘last week before football.’
The U SPORTS East-West Bowl (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET at Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton; available on McMaster’s YouTube channel) is an institution for me. It has gone through several formats, iterations, logos, jerseys, locations and outcomes but the fact always remains that it is a football field full of Canadian university football’s best and brightest coaches and players.
Walking into an East-West Bowl practice is one of my favourite days of the year. The dust has settled on the craziness of draft night, many times giving scouts and coaches from CFL clubs in attendance to get a head start on the next year’s draft the chance to swap stories on trades that almost were and picks that could have been. Put simply, East-West is where the CFL Draft truth comes out after months of speculation and posturing.
All of this while the best players across the country are staking their claim to hear their name called the following May while being guided by an all-star collective of U SPORTS coaches.
To give you an idea on the tangled web we weave, when I played in the East-West Bowl in 2013, current Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie was my quarterback coach while working with the Alouettes as an offensive assistant. In that game some linebacker from McGill named Jesse Briggs would line up across from me while a slender Manitoba running back named Anthony Coombs stood beside me in the backfield.
Future Grey Cup champion Laurent Duvernay-Tardif starred alongside fellow French big man David Foucault for the East squad, battling in the trenches all practice week long with longtime Stamps defensive tackle Derek Wiggan. The game ended with future CFL kicker Tyler Crapigna kicking multiple field goals down the stretch; that was just in 2013.
Every year of the East-West Bowl can be deconstructed like this to reveal a handful of names that CFL fans know and love currently. The fact the game isn’t broadcast is a federal crime in my mind, but with every All-Star, top draft pick and social media highlight that comes from this game, my hope is the momentum continues building into a product CFL fans demand access to from coast-to-coast as a preview of their franchise’s next potential star.
This year the group once again features a plethora of unique body types, levels of ability and jaw dropping raw talent. Ottawa Gee-Gees defensive back Eric Cumberbatch is a name to know, moving smoothly from station to station at high tempo practices and seamlessly achieving the task of any drill placed before him, while on the other side Regina Rams receiver D’Sean Mimbs is clearly the most athletically gifted of a top flight group.
As we know the CFL Draft often leans towards line play as a means to solidify Canadian content with anchors between the tackles on both sides of the ball. The 2023 East-West Bowl class gives CFL scouts — many of whom were in attendance this week — plenty to ponder over the coming year such as the raw power of Queen’s DT Darien Newell, boundless potential of Wilfrid Laurier OL Cooper Hamilton or prototypical size of Calgary Dinos OL John Bosse (pictured at the top of this story).
There is something for everyone during East-West Bowl week. It’s a proverbial supermarket for potential CFL superstars who will first go home to their U SPORTS programs and attempt to lead their teams to the Vanier Cup mountaintop this November.
This game will be a centrepiece of the CFL fan calendar before I’m done covering this league. For now, do what you can and support in any way possible by checking out the players’ profiles who are taking part, getting to know the next generation better and telling a friend or two about your favourite U SPORTS players.
These guys don’t just show up on your favourite team one day; they come from somewhere and this Saturday they’ll put it all on the line of scrimmage against each other for little more than bragging rights. It’s Canadian football in its purest form.