CFL prospects prepare for draft

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:31 PM ET

They thrust themselves into the football spotlight at opposite ends of the continent, formed a strong bond in a gym in the sunny south and likely will depart for different cities after the Canadian Football League’s Canadian draft on Sunday.

And for Shomari Williams and Joe Eppele, their friendship will last beyond their football careers.

Shomari, a Brampton native who helped Queen’s win the Vanier Cup last fall after three seasons at the University of Houston, and Eppele, a Vancouver native who played at Washington State, could be the top two picks in the draft.

Represented by Montreal-based agent Darren Gill, the two headed to the Bradenton-Sarasota area of Florida this past winter to prepare for the CFL combine in March in Toronto. For a fortnight, the pair not only trained together but talked shop when they had some spare time back at their condo.

“Having someone as focused as I was to live with, even just for two weeks, was a real benefit,” Eppele said on Thursday from Pullman, Wash. “We had a tight nutrition regimen, a tight sleep schedule. We just pushed each other, and both of us are better for it.”

Williams, taking a break from a workout in a gym in Houston on Thursday, concurred.

“If he did an extra bench press, I looked over and figured I better do another one as well,” Williams said with a laugh. “Joe lives on the other side of Canada, and it’s not a different culture or anything, but there were differences. We became good friends out of it.”

Williams lined up as a rush end at Queen’s after playing in the middle linebacker spot at Houston, and though the Argonauts are keeping their No. 1 choice close to the vest, few CFL watchers would be surprised if Williams is the first pick. He was ranked the top player in the CFL’s final amateur scouting bureau rankings, and has the ability to step into a starting lineup.

Eppele is a little more raw, something he acknowledged on Thursday, but could have an advantage over the other high-end offensive linemen available for the draft in that he is finished school and isn’t being lured by the NFL.

“If I am beaten out by Shomari (to be the No. 1 pick), I know I would not be as disappointed as I would be if it was someone else,” Eppele said. “He deserves it. I just want to get somewhere and put some pads on.”

Williams and Eppele share a trait that should make them attractive to all CFL clubs — off the field, they were excellent students, and both see plenty of community work in their near futures.

Williams graduated from one of the top entrepreneur programs in the U.S., has his own website that helps high school athletes get scholarships, and had an opportunity a few years ago to travel to Omaha to meet Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men.

Eppele, a psychology major, was on the PAC-10’s second all-academic team in three consecutive years. Once he graduates on May 8, he will make his way to his new CFL home to start preparing for training camp.

“Shomari and I both are advocates of the team, and we’re active off the field,” Eppele said. “So many people look up to athletes as role models, so you try to do everything right.”

Though more than a few of the prospects up for grabs on Sunday have ties to the NFL — whether it’s through invitations to mini-camps or having a solid shot at being selected in the 2011 NFL draft — Williams’ mindset is singular.

“I have no NFL aspirations,” Williams said. “I’m fine and happy with the CFL. It’s where I need to be.

“I cheered for the Argos growing up, and it would be a pleasure to play for them. Saskatchewan is picking No. 2, and it’s one of the best football cities in North America.

“I don’t know how everything will turn out, but I’m excited and nervous to be the possible No. 1 pick.”


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