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A standout season the scouts can't watch

CFL rule change delays draft eligibility for Bisons star RB Coombs

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THIS season Bisons running back Anthony Coombs is having, albeit only three games in, it's the kind of campaign to make a CFL scout's head spin.

Seriously, Coombs hasn't been simply dangerous. In the first three games of the season he was flat-out dominant, rushing for 448 yards and four touchdowns. That's good for second in the entire CIS in rushing yards per game, even with 20 fewer carries than the leader, and his 9.7 yards per carry average is also second in the country. His feet can dance with the best of 'em, and his engine just won't quit.

Too bad that after a quiet tweak to the CFL's draft eligibility rules, the 20-year-old running back won't get the chance to seal the deal with scouts. Instead of potentially hearing his name called at the next CFL draft in spring 2014, Coombs will now have to wait another year after that. "I was excited to go to the next level," Coombs said of the "mixed emotions" when he heard about the changes. "But it's finalized, I can't do anything about it now."

Here's the deal: on Sept. 6, the CFL quietly announced that Canadian players will now qualify for the draft after essentially four years of CIS competition, instead of after four years of university education. The shift, effective immediately, means that players who red-shirted out of high school will have to finish their CIS career before entering the draft. And Coombs red-shirted, as did Bisons defensive lineman Evan Gill.

Support for that move amongst CIS Canada West coaches was unanimous, Bisons bench boss Brian Dobie said, and he himself was one of the leading voices advocating the change. So obviously he was thrilled when he spoke about it on Thursday, calling it "the right thing" for programs and for athlete development. But for Coombs it was a bitter pill, especially in the middle of such a banner year.

"Yeah," Coombs laughed, before hopping on a plane to Calgary. "I was producing at a high level, so it would have raised my stock. But hey, you just have to do it again right? Show them you can be even more consistent."

Well, today he'll have another chance. Tonight, this spunky Bisons squad will face the fearsome University of Calgary Dinos in Alberta, and there's no love lost between these two teams: In the Bisons' last game of 2012, a playoff semifinal tilt, the Dinos savaged them to claim a 54-18 win. "They absolutely destroyed us, and imposed their will on us," Bisons coach Brian Dobie said of the last two times the Bisons faced that squad.

This time, though, few would count the Bisons out, especially after this scrappy Bisons squad has battled through three wildly competitive games. This week, they're riding high after an unlikely comeback in Vancouver, one that saw the Bisons claw back a 17-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, to seal a 36-32 win with just a minute left to play.

Still, Calgary is the toughest team the Bisons have faced this season. They have weapons of their own -- so Coombs, a sturdy offensive line, some sparkplug receivers, and a fresh but talented young pivot in Jordan Yantz -- will need to use up the arsenal to come home with a win.

"This team has fight, and this is our test," Dobie said. "It's time for this team to face that test, and grow up, and impose their will in a different direction."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2013 C4

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