File photo. Courtesy Varsity Blues U of T.

With the CFL draft approaching, it’s time to get to know the CFL Toronto Combine, which took place from March 10 to 13. The combine, broadly put, is a showcase of this year’s CFL prospects.

The participants for the national combine are chosen from three regional combines, but a high quality performance at a regional combine does not guarantee a national combine appearance.

In the 2014 regional combine, former Varsity Blue Christopher Johnson posted the fastest 40-yard dash time, highest vertical jump, and longest broad jump among linebackers. In spite of these accomplishments, he did not receive an invite to the national combine.

As important as exposure is to the draft, the national combine is not the only way CFL scouts evaluate athletes. While the combine can boost a player’s draft stock, scouts take an athlete’s entire body of work into consideration — this includes studying tapes of games, interviews with coaches and players, and regional combine results.

This year, a total of four Blues — DJ Sackey, Boris Isakov, Zack Lukings, and Farouk Musa — competed at the regional combine. Although none received invites to the national combine, this should not necessarily dissuade their draft stock.

Third-year offensive lineman Sackey will have another year with the Blues, while Isakov, Lukings, and Musa will have to hope that their current accomplishments are enough to get them invited to a CFL roster. While Sackey can be confident in his second place finish amongst lineman in the vertical leap, he looks to improve on his bench press and broad jump measurements.

Musa, who graduated in 2014, is hoping to crack a roster somewhere in the CFL after posting a 4.927 second 40-yard dash time. That time was good enough for third place at the regional combine among linebackers; the only two ahead of him were NCAA products.

Meanwhile, fellow graduate Zack Lukings posted the second fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive lineman, at 5.194.

Isakov, who transferred to the Blues in 2013 from the Queen’s Gaels, led the Blues in receiving yards in 2015. He had assumed his football playing days were over once the season ended. Then the CFL came calling. “I thought my football career was over,” said Isakov, “that’s when coach asked me to come in and told me there’s a couple of CFL teams that were interested in seeing what I could do.”

At the regional combine, Isakov posted a 4.31 second shuttle cone drill time, good for fourth among all participants at the combine. He says the environment around him helped. “Just to have friends and family and teammates and everyone there supporting… I feel like that really pushed me to have better results and a lot of drills I had personal bests because of that.”

These prospects, coming from both the CIS and the NCAA, put themselves through a gauntlet of football skill-testing drills in front of CFL scouts. With the stakes so high, the pressure can cause some to crack.

In spite of that pressure, several recent Blues have excelled at the combine. Prior to this year’s combine, former Blue Aaron Milton finished top amongst running backs in the 3-cone and short shuttle drills. Milton received a bid to the national combine that year, and he now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Although there were no Blues invited to this years national combine, Christopher Johnson’s story may leave the Blues hopeful that CFL signing can still happen. The extra exposure Aaron Milton received from the national combine likely helped his draft stock. Exposure at the combine is important, however, it is far from integral. Isakov, Musa, and Lukings, may have hope that their portfolios are impressive enough to warrant a draft pick.

For Sackey, he may hope the that if he doesn’t get drafted this year, an additional year of eligibility will catch the eyes of scouts across the CFL.

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