Dream of NFL hard to drop

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

It is the dream of any aspiring football player, regardless of his nationality, to play in the National Football League.

It is for this reason that running back Jesse Lumsden, born and raised in Hamilton, is sitting around waiting for a chance to play in the NFL rather than signing a contract and suiting up for the hometown Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

The Tiger-Cats, who selected him in the first round of the CFL draft this year out of McMaster University, play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers tonight at Ivor Wynne Stadium. So far the Tiger-Cats are winless in eight games, a dramatic fall from a year ago when they finished 9-8-1 and closer to the 2003 season when they won just once in 18 games.

Lumsden is not the answer to the Tiger-Cats' woes --the problems are inconsistent quarterbacking, receiving, kicking, injuries, personnel, coaching, management and an owner who is still just learning in his second season --but the local fans would love nothing more than to see Lumsden in uniform. He's a hero in Hamilton.

Right now Lumsden is thinking only about the NFL. It's been something he, his father Neil --a one time CFL running back---and the family representative, Dan Lawson, have been targeting with a clear and precise plan since a knee injury forced Lumsden to sit out his final university game last fall.

DOMINATED OUA

He dominated the Ontario university ranks en route to setting a national single-season rushing yardage record last season and winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the top collegiate football player in the country.

To prepare him for a post-collegiate career --in particular a possible shot at the NFL --he began a stint to rehab his knee and then a daily workout regiment in Arizona with a personal trainer to improve his speed and strength. It was hoped he would receive an invitation in January to the NFL Combine, in which the top graduating players at each position are picked by NFL teams to come for physical and mental testing.

If you're not invited to the Combine -- regardless of what you have done at the collegiate level -- the chances of being selected in the NFL draft in April are diminished. Lumsden did not receive an invitation, but he kept working out in preparation for a private workout planned by his representative for any NFL teams.

In front of scouts for four teams, the 6-foot-2 1/2, 226-pounder ran a 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. That's a good time for a big man, and speed is the major barometer by which teams make their judgements.

But it wasn't enough to get Lumsden drafted. However, the Seattle Seahawks, who attended the public workout, offered him a free-agent contract and gave him a little signing bonus. It wasn't about the money; more about the opportunity and the dream.

A knee and hip injury in training camp compromised his chances, and he was released earlier this week after suiting up for a pre-season game but not playing. Now he's waiting for a chance that most people believe won't come because it's all about the moment, and right now his resume shows an injury in training camp and no game experience.

The dream is still there and he and his handlers will exhaust every opportunity before committing to the Tiger-Cats.

Logic suggests he will be signed in time for the Labour Day game, but his future in the CFL as a starting running back is uncertain. The position is reserved almost exclusively for Americans, and the Tiger-Cats have a star back, albeit one who is being underused and unhappy about his contract.

Lumsden looked like a man playing against boys in university, but now he is a boy hoping to play against men in the NFL. In his heart, Lumsden wishes some team will take a shot on him as a kick returner, but logic suggests he will be returning to Hamilton, sooner than later.


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