Putting the 'C' in CFL

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:58 PM ET

TORONTO - A CFL team is only as good as its Canadian talent, which, of course, is no secret to Hamilton Tiger-Cats general manager Bob O'Billovich.

In the CFL, they don’t come any better than the man simply known as Obie, one of many club executives who have gathered in Toronto as part of the three-day evaluation camp for draft-eligible players.

Obie’s time in three-down football dates to a place in time when 45 capable bodies would huddle for CFL teams in a make-shift setting.

At this year’s event, the top-59 prospects have assembled, getting tested and being interviewed at Park Hyatt ballroom that has been transformed into a professional environment.

“I feel very strongly about our Canadian university system,’’ O’Billovich said, an opinion that is shared by many of his peers.

“This camp has come a long way,’’ added Obie. “Canadians now have a much better opportunity to at least get looked at and see if they have a chance to hook up with some team.”

With limited rosters, balancing the Canadian-American ratio is as important as finding a rush end.

In a combine setting, linemen on either side of scrimmage are often highlighted.

In the CFL, some teams, notably the Montreal Alouettes, use an all-Canadian offensive line.

“What’s important is that the level of Canadian talent has gotten better,’’ O’Billovich said.

VAN PRAET TURNS HEADS

Under-sized lineman are generally overlooked by CFL teams, but Mike Van Praet was looking to make an impression.

On that front, Van Praet was successful, eclipsing a personal best in the bench press with a 38-rep performance that had the audience applauding in the end.

If only Van Praet’s future as a pro football lineman could be as awe-inspiring.

The bottom line with this University of Western Ontario product is where Van Praet’s skill set is best suited.

At 6-foot-2 and weighing roughly 310 pounds, Van Praet isn’t big enough to line up on the defensive line and go fill gaps or apply pressure in the backfield.

At the university level, the London, Ont., native lined up at nose tackle for the Mustangs, but a move to offence would be considered if a team was willing to take a chance on Van Praet.

“I’m not uncomfortable on the offensive line,’’ he said. “It’s certainly an option I thought of, but I’ve considered all options.”

It’s not unusual for Canadian linemen to switch lines of scrimmage, but like a lot of things in life it’s more a question of opportunity.

Admittedly, Van Praet wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived in Toronto for the CFL’s three-day long evaluation camp that brings together the top prospects for the May 3 draft.

“Most of the guys didn’t know who I was,’’ said Van Praet. “All I wanted was a chance for them to talk to me.”

After posting the day’s best bench press, Van Praet was among the day’s conversation points.

“It was nerve-wracking as hell,’’ said Van Praet as he settled in for the bench press. “I didn’t know what to expect when I got up there.

“I’m happy the way it turned out. All the people were watching and they pumped up my adrenaline.”

Imagine the rush if Van Praet hears his name called in the May 3 draft.


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