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Bison Gill chillin' in Florida

Defensive end working hard to make impression

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University of Manitoba Bisons defensive lineman Evan Gill is drawing the attention of both CFL and NFL scouts.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

University of Manitoba Bisons defensive lineman Evan Gill is drawing the attention of both CFL and NFL scouts. Photo Store

It was one of those January weather reports from elsewhere -- actually almost anywhere on this planet and beyond -- that chilled-to-the-bone Winnipeggers just cringe having thrown in their faces.

"Right now it's about 22 degrees. I'm sitting by the pool," explained Evan Gill with a chuckle while on the line from Bradenton, Fla. "I can't complain."

No, he can't. Not about the weather and certainly not about what's on the horizon for the gifted defensive end on the University of Manitoba Bisons football team, who is on one of those rolls in which he is seemingly crushing every would-be roadblock in front of him.

Over the weekend, Gill -- a 6-3, 295-pound product of Churchill High School -- was just the third Bison (Israel Idonije and Jason Rauhaus, the others) to suit up for the East-West Shrine Game, at 89 years the oldest college all-star game in the United States.

'I went into the game with one goal: to make a play or two and do something to get onto someone's radar. I had a chance to make one play and I'm hoping it's something to have NFL scouts take a look'

-- Evan Gill

He made one play that jumped off the page in busting up a would-be screen pass and, based on the interest from a number of NFL teams that asked to speak to him during the week, did exactly what he hoped: open up some eyes north and south of the border.

"I went into the game with one goal: to make a play or two and do something to get onto someone's radar," said Gill, who has temporarily suspended his studies to train with a group of prospects at Athletic Edge in Bradenton. "I had a chance to make one play and I'm hoping it's something to have NFL scouts take a look.

"I'll be honest, though... all of this, it really hasn't sunk in yet. It's a little bit surreal, almost."

That's a word -- 'surreal' -- that Gill dropped a couple of times during the course of a chat and with good reason. Consider, after all, what has unfolded for the 21-year-old since his days at Churchill and, especially, of late.

To sum up, he went from a redshirt out of high school to being named to the 2013 Canada West all-star team, to the invite to the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., to being ranked sixth by the CFL Scouting Bureau in advance of this year's CFL Canadian Draft.

"Looking back at everything from high school on... it's been a long road," said Gill. "In this past season, we had a good year with the Bisons and to be able to be the first team to open Investors Group Field... that first moment running onto the field with the flag was surreal.

"Then, to have this, being ranked for the CFL draft and now down in Florida training... it's unbelievable. I've been in contact with a lot of former high school teammates, classmates, teachers and it's amazing to see that amount of support and how proud people are back home."

Bisons head coach Brian Dobie, in a pre-East-West chat with Gill before he left, informed the prospect NFL teams had been asking for film of him. That's only been further cranked up as more clubs down south -- and, of course, every team in the CFL -- has been calling Dobie for some background.

Let's just say Gill has been getting a dandy reference from his coach.

"We'll see how it plays out, but I'm fairly optimistic that kid will be at an NFL camp," said Dobie.

But let's not paint the picture the work is done: Gill trains twice a day, six days a week leading up until March in preparation for the NFL Combine or another look. And, in between, there may be an occasional dip in the pool.

"This is a once-in-lifetime opportunity and I'm going to do everything I can," said Gill. "I'm going to work hard, hope for the best and see where this all falls."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 C4

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