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CFL's main combine cancelled due to coronavirus

The ongoing coronavirus situation has forced the CFL to cancel its main combine scheduled in Toronto with virtually every football activity either put on hold or outright shelved.

Amid this growing outbreak, virtually every professional league has taken action to ensure the health of its players and fans aren’t compromised.

The NBA took the first step late Wednesday by suspending its season until further notice.

The NHL made the move Thursday, the same day the CFL announced its plans to cancel the March 26-28 combine, which would have brought together the top prospects eligible for the league’s global draft and its main draft.

Baseball and Major League Soccer would also announce plans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as the league’s regional combine was taking place inside U of T’s bubble at Varsity Centre, an air of disquiet could be felt among the league GMs and coaches.

Under most circumstances, the top prospects from the regional combine would have been invited to the main camp, but events have changed and uncertainty now prevails.

What’s known is that the league’s global draft scheduled for April 16 and the April 30 national draft will proceed as scheduled.

CFL camps open in May.

Regional combines scheduled Friday in Montreal and next Friday in Edmonton have effectively been cancelled.

In addition, the CFL’s executive and rules committee meetings, which were also scheduled in Toronto as part of the main combine, will now be held remotely.

All nine member clubs will cancel free-agent camps in the U.S., while school visits and community outreach programs have been cancelled for precautionary reasons.

One of the strengths of the CFL is its players and how much time they commit to the community.

The league had scheduled to feature 50 of the CFL’s top players in Toronto as part of a media blitz.

“Here at the CFL,’’ commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement, “we are optimistic by nature. We remain very hopeful that circumstances will allow us to resume our normal activities soon and well in advance of our regular season (June 11).

“On behalf of our league governors, I want to thank our players, football leaders, partners and staff for their understanding and patience. In particular, we thank our fans for their support and spirit. And we say to them: Be well. Keep the faith. We will get back to the business of bringing people together. And, more than anything, we look forward to being with all of you.”

SCHAFFER-BAKER STANDS OUT

Big, strong, athletic, hungry and humble, there are so many different ways to describe Kian Schaffer-Baker, whose body type did allow the receiving prospect to stick out amount the crowd at Thursday’s CFL regional combine.

A nagging hamstring injury sustained a few weeks ago did prevent KSB from running the 40, but CFL teams are fully aware of his speed and potential.

Schaffer-Baker attended Our Lady of Count Carmel in Mississauga before heading off to the University of Guelph.

He does have one more year of eligibility, but he’s one of those prospects projected to be selected in this year’s CFL draft.

“I feel truly blessed,’’ said the soft-spoken receiver. “I have to give all thanks and glory to God.”

The goal is to play at the pro level, which is why Thursday’s gathering at Varsity Centre was viewed as the first step.

“I’m still learning a lot,’’ said Schaffer-Baker. “This is the foundation. I’ve come such a long way, I have such a strong support staff, trainers and coaches, and I’m trying to elevate my game from here on out.”

Schaffer-Baker, 21, couldn’t help but notice the likes of Mike O’Shea, Winnipeg’s Grey Cup winning head coach, Argos GM Michael Clemons and other CFL heavyweights in attendance.

“It was great to see some of these high-class guys,’’ added Schaffer-Baker. “Being able to come out and showcase my talents and abilities, there’s nothing better than that. It’s truly a blessing.”

One of the kid’s coaches/mentors is former CFL MOP Chad Owens.

The person who has spent the most time with Schaffer-Baker is Shea Pierre, who was head strength and conditioning coach for the Argos and at Guelph.

He runs Pierre’s Elite Performance in Mississauga.

When Pierre’s journey with Schaffer-Baker began, the two worked out in Pierre’s basement.

Their journey is documented on YouTube.

“He’s a very mature athlete,’’ said Pierre of Schaffer-Baker. “He’s done all the right things, kept his body in elite shape. He’s ready for the next step in his career, which is the CFL.”

Schaffer-Baker has worked out with Owens and the NFL’s Brandon Marshall.

“They taught him about life, maturing as an athlete,’’ added Pierre. “I think he’s ready.

SANDJONG TAKES CUE FROM RAPTORS

As a native of Cameroon, Rossini Sandjong speaks respectfully when discussing Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid, high-profiled hoopsters who are among the game’s elite young guard.

Sandjong isn’t likely to reach that lofty status, but the kid works as hard as any draft-eligible player whose future seems bright.

Sandjong left Cameroon when he was eight years old.

His family settled in Montreal.

“I grew up in Montreal and then stopped playing football,’’ said Sandjong of his journey. “I didn’t take the sport seriously. Academics became my priority, but football was the first organized sport I played.”

His passion for the pigskin was rekindled as Sandjong represented Canada.

Recruiters from both sides of the border than began to court Sandjong.

He would enroll at York, admitting he did not speak English all that well.

He’ll be graduating this year and was accepted to pursue his masters.

“I’m going to defer that because I want to play football,’’ said Sandjong, who studied business global economy and law. “Football is now my first love.”

Sandjong is a 6-foot-2, 235-pound rush end, a pure pass rusher who loves to come off the edge.

“Speed and attacking the quarterback,’’ he said.

Sandjong plans to keep training and ensuring he’s on the right track to get to the next level.

“My main focus is to get drafted in the CFL and have a good career,’’ he said.

During a workout in Hollywood recently, Sandjong had a chance to cross paths with a handful of NFLers, including running back Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.

“He’s (Barr) actually a pretty good example of what I’m trying to aim for in the CFL,’’ said Sandjong. “I try to pick some of the things he does and apply it to my game. It was very interesting to be around him.”

MILITARY KID WILLIAMS IN SPOTLIGHT

Jordan Williams was back in his mom’s hometown and back into the football spotlight at the CFL’s regional combine Thursday.

If all goes well, when he does come back to Canada the linebacking prospect will suit up for a CFL team.

Born in Baltimore, Williams went from city to city as his mom, Astra Williams, served in the U.S. military.

Her goal, according to Williams, was to be a model, but things changed when she became a mother.

Through his mom, Jordan became enlightened on Toronto’s diversity and the food choices available in such a metropolitan city.

“She was right,’’ smiled Williams, who attended East Carolina University.

His mom’s Canadian roots will allow Williams to dress as a national in the CFL.

Williams held a pro day at Eastern Carolina and had a tryout with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

A well-spoken kid, Williams has one goal in mind.

“At the end of the day, that goal is to be the strongest version of myself,’’ he said. “I don’t do the accolades. I don’t say: ‘I want to do this, I want to be like this guy.’ At the end of the day, if I’m the strongest version of myself I’ll be happy with that.”

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has scratched the CFL’s main camp, which was to be held back at U of T’s Varsity Centre in two weeks, an event that would have allowed Williams to test himself against the very best draft-eligible prospects.

As for Thursday’s combine, the occasion provided Williams a brief look at three-down football.

Williams has never been exposed to the CFL game, but his athleticism should make him an ideal candidate to play at the next level Canada.

“It was pretty good,’’ said Williams when asked for a self-assessment. “I’d say a B.”

The chance to play in the CFL excites Williams.

“I’d love to be in the league,’’ he said. “The culture here is so different, it’s so laid back. Everyone welcomes you with open arms. I love it.”

During breaks in drills, a few CFL types approached Williams.

“I got to speak with a couple of coaches. They were pretty chilled out.”

Williams was able to watch Winnipeg’s win over Hamilton in the Grey Cup.

What struck Williams the most was watching Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill and his ability to play down hill.

“Just looking at that game and looking at the top guys, you can tell this guy (Bighill) really ran to the football, very smart and deceptive speed,’’ said Williams. “The dude is very fast.”

Source: winnipegsun.com




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