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CFL

Prospects on hot seat during CFL combine interviews

By Kirk Penton, Winnipeg Sun

Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel, seen during a game against the Edmonton Eskimos, wasn’t happy with the answer given by a prospect during the CFL combine four years ago. But the Stamps still drafted the player. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel, seen during a game against the Edmonton Eskimos, wasn’t happy with the answer given by a prospect during the CFL combine four years ago. But the Stamps still drafted the player. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

Four years ago, the Calgary Stampeders were interviewing running back Matt Walter, a CFL prospect, at the league’s annual combine.

One of the questions was why his University of Calgary Dinos had struggled in a recent playoff game.

Walter said his coaching staff got away from the game plan too soon.

Wrong answer.

Stampeders head coach and general manager John Hufnagel went to town on the poor kid, noting in a not so subtle way that it was curious to question your current head coach to your potential future head coach.

The interview process is one of the more fascinating aspects of the annual CFL combine, as teams get to spend 15 minutes with a prospect to find out everything they can about him. The Argos have the reputation as the toughest of the nine teams, with the other eight all tying for second.

“We’re not too tough on the kids,” Stampeders Canadian scout Brendan Mahoney said. “We just like to find out how they got into football, basic questions to start. I usually lead it off, and then a position coach or the co-ordinator will come in and ask specific football questions.”

That’s how most of this year’s prospects described their interviews with teams, which started Friday night and wrapped up Saturday evening. No one QMI Agency interviewed Saturday afternoon had been grilled too hard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however. If you have a reputation for not going hard on every play, they’ll ask you why that is. If you have a history of hanging out with shady characters, they might ask if they’re still in your life. If your shoes aren’t polished, they’ll question your attention to detail. They might show a video of you in action and ask why you made the decision that resulted in the other team scoring a touchdown or making an interception.

“Some teams were a little more lax, and some teams really get after you,” Simon Fraser receiver Lemar Durant said. “It didn’t really matter what answer you gave. They come back at you with something. You just gotta be prepared for that, but I think I dealt with it pretty good.

“It’s definitely not something you’re used to. They’ll ask you more questions that they feel you’ll have a tougher time answering; questions you’re not really prepared for. Interviews make you feel the most uncomfortable, so that’s just something you have to deal with and show what you’re made out of.”

Wilfrid Laurier defensive back Chris Ackie had five interviews Friday night and was scheduled to do another four Saturday evening. He was nervous going into the first one, but he calmed down about halfway through it. The rest, he said, were a breeze — even the one with the Argos.

“Toronto’s supposed to be tough, but I felt it went really well,” Ackie said. “It was pretty funny, actually. We were laughing and joking around, and I answered some questions. It went really well. I’m happy with that one.”

Montreal Carabins linebacker Byron Archambault said all the interviews were “out there” for him because they were all different.

“They all have their specific questions, so they’re all trying to single certain aspects out,” he said. “An interview with Montreal when you’re from Montreal is going to be different than your interview with Calgary if you’re from Montreal. They want to see different things because it’s different realities.

“It’s ‘out there’ once you get into that room, because it’s a different atmosphere. Some people have a TV and they’re going to play plays of you. Some others are just three or four around the table and it’s a friendly talk.”

The good news for the prospects is the interview process will rarely deliver a blow to their draft status. Football teams care more about them scoring touchdowns than being choir boys. That’s why Sunday’s on-field testing at the University of Toronto will be the most important aspect of the weekend.

As for Walter, who had Hufnagel’s blood pressure up four years ago, it didn’t end up hurting him at all.

“We ended up drafting him,” Mahoney said with a laugh.

The Stamps took him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, and he’s had 155 carries for them over the last three years. He also won a Grey Cup in November — bad interview and all.

“I don’t think it’ll really hurt a kid ever,” Mahoney said.

THINGS ARE GETTIN' PERSONAL, COACH

University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback Jordan Yantz had one of the more interesting questions posed to him during an interview at this weekend’s CFL combine.

It wasn’t what he would do to pick up a certain kind of blitz, nor was it how he became a quarterback.

No, this one was a little different.

“If I were to take my girlfriend out for dinner and a fun night, what would I do?” Yantz said with a laugh.

Yantz said he would take the lucky lady to 529 Wellington Steakhouse, one of Winnipeg’s finest restaurants. The football person who asked the question was familiar with the establishment and liked his answer.

“So that was pretty good,” Yantz said. “You get to create a little bonding time with it. It was funny. It was good.”

After that, it was back to regular football questions. One team showed him video of a pre-snap situation and asked him, as a quarterback, what he saw.

“That’s putting you on the spot when you’ve got a whole coaching staff in the room,” Yantz said, “but other than that it was pretty good.”

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/PentonKirk


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