Taking the step

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

The pressure will be enormous, but the eventual payoff could be even bigger.

Three members of the 2005 University of Alberta Golden Bears -- Jarred Winkel, Darryl Salmon and Jason Milne -- along with 45 other top Canadian-born draft eligible players will get an opportunity to showcase their skills next week at the annual CFL evaluation camp in southern Ontario.

"You can't underestimate how important this is as far as trying to make a step to the next level," said Milne.

"Any time you get a chance to be in front of coaches and general managers throughout the league, you got to be able to impress them."

The high-stake situation is not lost on Winkel.

"It can determine your place in the draft (or) if you even get drafted," said the Bears' top running back.

This year's CFL college draft is set for April 20 -- and this scouting combine has been a springboard for stars in the past.

In fact, Jason Clermont (B.C. Lions) and Dave Stala (Montreal Alouettes) -- both 1,000-yard receivers in 2005 -- came through the camp.

In 2005, 26 of the 40 combine attendees were selected in the draft that spring, including five players in the first round.

The numbers were even higher in 2003 and 2004.

Winkel is projected to be the top Bear at this year's evaluation gathering.

A two-time all-Canadian, the 25-year-old Edmonton product put on a clinic in the Canada West final last fall, rushing for 159 yards on 22 carries.

"Jarred is one of those special players that comes around once in a while," said Bears' head coach Jerry Friesen.

"(He has) great vision and a speed burst that separates him from the other backs."

Salmon is the most intriguing Bear heading to camp, as he will try to convert himself to being a receiver after playing quarterback in the CIS.

"Darryl is an outstanding athlete," continued Friesen. "He has the size and speed to be an outstanding receiver, but now the challenge will be making the change."

Milne carries the classic underdog story to Mississauga: considered undersized by experts, but determined.

"I'm coming into this in the best shape I have ever been in," said the six-foot-two, 211-pound all-Canadian safety.

"And I love contact -- and being a defensive player you kind of have to be a little boneheaded and put your head in wherever."

Edmonton native James Ammar, who plays at Rocky Mountain College, is also invited.

The two-day camp features extensive on-field drills next Friday. But the players will also be put to the test off the field the night before during interviews with teams.

"You learn quite a bit about an individual if you just spend five minutes with him and that's why there are four of us going down (to the camp)," said Eskimo head coach Danny Maciocia, who will be joined by defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell, linebacker coach Dan Kepley and football operations manager Dan McKinnon.

"I want other coaches to talk to (the players) and then we'll see what our impressions are.

"How does (the player) rub you? Does he rub you the right way or the wrong way? What kind of kid is he?"

By the end of next week, many questions will be answered.

FINISH LINES: The CFL head office puts together the player invitation list after polling the teams ... Western Ontario's Andy Fantuz (Hec Creighton-award winning receiver) and Laval's Dominic Picard (CIS top offensive lineman) will receive plenty of attention at the combine as will University of Saskatchewan running back David Stevens.


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