Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NFL teams have keen interest in DL Charles

Regina star also top prospect for CFL draft

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TIME hasn't quite cured what ails Stefan Charles.

The 24-year-old native of Oshawa, Ont., has always been an Atlanta Falcons fan and still hasn't got over the heartbreak of the franchise's 34-19 Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos in January 1999. But having the opportunity to don the team's colours and celebrate an NFL championship would certainly erase that lingering bitterness.

Dream

The towering Regina Rams defensive lineman can certainly dream big these days, considering he's garnering plenty of interest south of the border leading up to the 2013 NFL draft in April. He's hoping to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Akiem Hicks, who was selected in the third round last year by the New Orleans Saints.

"When I played next to Akiem (in 2011) I didn't feel there really was much of a difference between us," said Charles, who has declared for this year's NFL draft. "Any team that takes me is going to get a player who will work hard and always want to be the best.

"I'm always looking at what I need to do to improve and get better."

Over three seasons at Regina, the 6-5, 310-pound Charles had 56.5 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 22 career games. By comparison, Hicks, an American who was once a top prospect at LSU, had 56 tackles and eight sacks in 16 CIS contests.

The scouting report on Charles says he is very athletic and possesses a long reach, qualities that could make him a nice fit as a defensive end in an NFL three-man front.

Not bad, considering Charles never played minor football growing up and early in high school was a basketball player before turning his attention to the gridiron. To date, Charles has spoken to Atlanta, Jacksonville and Dallas while several other clubs -- including Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis and Seattle -- have called Regina looking for his game film.

But it's the Falcons that Charles grew up cheering for.

"It has always been the Falcons," he said. "I used to root for (former Atlanta running back) Jamal Anderson and I was heartbroken when they lost the Super Bowl."

Options

However, Charles will have the luxury of options when it comes to where he plays next.

He's also very highly regarded for this year's CFL Canadian college draft. The league's central scouting bureau ranked Charles fourth among the top 15 prospects for the 2013 draft.

And Charles would readily welcome the opportunity to play in the CFL.

"All I'd like is the opportunity to play professional football," he said. "That's all I need, really.

"I know I have a lot I need to work on but any team that takes me is going to get a player who will work hard to be the best he can be. They definitely won't regret it."

Rams head coach Frank McCrystal said Charles definitely has the tools and ability to play at the next level.

"He can play professional football, whether it's the NFL or CFL really depends on him, McCrystal said. "Stefan is big, he's strong, he's explosive and he plays on the field with an edge and those are all important parts of the package."

Charles isn't the only Rams player receiving NFL interest. McCrystal said he has spoken to a number of American officials about Brett Jones, a 6-2, 310-pound offensive tackle from Weyburn, Sask., and first-team All-Canadian the last two years.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 D6

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