Gridiron dreams were made – and broken – in Waterloo on Thursday.
The CFL Regional Combine took place at the University of Waterloo field house.
For many local university football players it was their last shot to impress CFL scouts and get an invite to the main combine later this month.
“This is the place where guys get found who might not otherwise have been seen,” said Greg Dick, the head of football operations for the CFL. “They haven’t already been selected to the CFL combine and this is a place where guys get found.”
A total of 45 athletes from universities across Ontario showed off their strength, speed and skill at the one-day event.
“These guys are the ones that are really, really hungry, this is a huge opportunity for them,” said Dick.
“We’re getting a look at these players up close and personal, and getting to see what type of shape they’re in,” said Vince Magri, the assistant general manager for the Toronto Argonauts.
Of the 45 players, only four will move on to the national combine.
One of them was Jared Beeksma. He grew up in Cambridge and played football at Jacob Hespeler Secondary School and most recently, at the University of Guelph.
“[It’s] definitely a childhood dream coming true, but it’s only part of the process,” he said. “You dream of going to the combine, dream of getting drafted and playing. So this is one step of the process and I look forward to everything working out at the end.”
Beeksma said it’s taken years of dedicated effort to get to this point.
“The fact that all the training went somewhere, I’m just looking forward to another opportunity to show my stuff. Hopefully I improve in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Other players weren’t as fortunate as Beeksma.
Barnaba Neil, a highly-skilled receiver for the University of Waterloo, did not hear his name called.
“My head’s gonna stay high, this isn’t the end,” the Kitchener-native said. “Tomorrow I’m going to be back at work as if I’m going to the national combine because football is not over for me. I’m going to keep going until I can’t.”
After a lifetime of dedication to the game, Neil’s journey is not over.
“My best football has not been played yet. I’m going to go to any facility that wants me. I’m going to work from sun up to sundown. I’m going to do whatever they need me to do.”
The CFL National Combine will be held March 25 to March 27 at the University of Toronto, and the CFL draft is set for May 3.