There are only three things that bring together the true north strong and free: the Trans-Canada highway, hockey, and the Canadian Football League. On the weekend of March 6 – 8, the annual CFL player evaluation camp took place in Toronto, with events held at the InterContinental Yorkville Hotel and Varsity Stadium. The history of this great event continued when fifty of the top home grown talents in Canadian universities met to show their stuff in front of the watchful eyes of coaches, scouts, and general managers.
The Saturday event was the inaugural meat market day, consisting of weigh-ins and height measurements, along with broad jump and vertical leap events. But the “cattle” were treated like top quality heifers, from a swanky hotel room, to buffet meals, and bags full of Reebok swag given at the very start of the weekend.The Sunday event literally started off with a bang with a collision between James Green, a running back from St. Francis Xavier University, and Jim Barker, the Calgary Stampeders senior vice-president of football operations. While Barker was evaluating drills from the sideline, Green stretched out to catch an overthrown ball from the Argos’ Cody Pickett. Both combatants went down hard, but Barker insisted he got the better of Green.The ensuing 40-yard dash and one-on-one drills provided record breaking moments. Among the top performers at the camp was the Varsity Blues’ very own Matthew Morris. Morris, who is used primarily as a defensive back, but also saw time as a punt and kick returner, was by no means the tallest player, as his height was recorded at 5’8.5”. Yet Morris had an impressive 35.5” vertical leap, to go along with his 9’54” broad jump, numbers that helped him rank third among all of the defensive backs at the camp. He also ran a 4.59” in the 40-yard dash, which ties him for fifth overall and second among defensive backs. Impressively, Morris bench pressed twenty repetitions, the highest number of any defensive back in camp. He later revealed that the bench press was the event he was most proud of.As the sole representative from U of T, Morris stressed how pleased he was representing the university, and what an honour it was to have been selected to be the “host” for the weekend.“This entire camp has been an amazing experience,” gushed Morris. “We have been getting a bad reputation in the last few years, so this is an opportunity to show everybody that dudes coming out of U of T can play some football.”There is no doubt that Morris can play. He first got noticed putting up outstanding numbers at the prestigious Cederbrae Collegiate. Morris was anxious to get involved in American football, and after attending an American prep school, he spent two years at Division I Colgate University in upstate New York. Morris later transferred to Division II Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, where he was injured and unfortunately did not get to play. After former U of T coach Steve Howlett came calling, the Scarborough native returned to Canada, where he ended up playing a major role for the Varsity Blues. He recorded twelve tackles, and led the Blues in both punt and kick returns yards. Perhaps Morris’ most famous play of the season was a 92 yarder in the first game of the season, when Toronto snapped its 49-game losing streak against Waterloo on Labour Day.“I felt like my breath was taken away for about two minutes.” joked Morris about the return, the longest of the season. Interestingly, when asked what the biggest readjustment was to Canadian Football after playing in the United States, he replied that the much larger field took some getting used to. Of his kick return, Morris remarked, “I would have been in the end zone probably 20 yards earlier. But with the longer field I was only able to make it to the one.”Morris is looking ahead to his professional future, but he also sees bright prospects for the Varsity Blues. “There are a lot of young players in our team that are really good,” said Morris. “Changing the program last year has definitely helped out the team and will better develop these players. They will definitely be here next year and the years to come.”Morris spoke confidently about the team’s performance this past season, putting great hope into the team’s 2-6 record. Morris is truly representative of the dedication of the Blues team, and the pride that is starting to return to the franchise.As for Morris, when questioned as to which CFL team he would like to play for, he stated confidently that whichever team that drafts him will get a very good player. Indeed, part of Morris’ appeal is that he can play multiple defensive positions in addition to his return skills, and he can even line up as a wide receiver, and has some quarterback experience. Morris is a multifaceted player, and the way that he has carried himself, his constant effort, his ability to interact with athletes from other schools, his deference to his coaches, and the whoops and cheers from his sizable entourage were constant highlights of the meaty CFL player evaluation camp.Another highlight of the weekend was the record breaking 40-yard dash time and vertical score from Jamall Lee of Bishop’s University. A large surprise was the appearance of all three Toronto Argos quarterbacks in full uniform. Unlike last year, when two college QBs were in the camp, this year it was the Argo QBs that took turns throwing passes to university wide receivers and defensive backs on the field. It was promising to see Argonauts starting quarterback Kerry Joseph, who like Matthew Morris is a small, yet powerfully built football player, able to make the adjustment to Canadian football participate in some of the drills. In a later interview, Joseph revealed that he was very high on some of the wide receivers and defensive backs in the camp. Exposure to the players in the camp will allow Joseph to welcome future teammates or opponents to the league.Before the season begins, the CFL draft takes place on May 2. If he had not done so already, Matthew Morris made an impression over the course of the weekend. A veteran CFL running back and quarterback coach revealed that even though Morris may not have been on the radar at the start of camp, he definitely made his presence felt by the end of it. Hopefully soon enough, when Matthew Morris takes to the CFL field, it will be our breath, not his, taken away.