Bison pass-catchers making surprise impressions at camp
Sometimes, it's better to receive
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2015 (2947 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Even before spring camp started, University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie expected some fresh faces would show up and make his job a whole lot harder.
Still, he wasn’t expecting just how tough his decisions are about to get when it comes to receivers.
“Our receiver situation is crazy,” Dobie said Sunday, shortly before closing camp with a scrimmage. “It’s really, really loaded.”
The Bisons brought about 30 receivers into the weekend camp. (That doesn’t include a couple of talented recruits from outside Manitoba who couldn’t make the trip, but will be on the team.) Obviously, not all of them are going to stick — but among the newcomers, several standouts made a pretty good bid.
One of the most surprising could be Shai Ross, a 21-year-old Winnipegger who only picked up the sport about five years ago. Though he came into camp as a virtual unknown to coaches, he’s not leaving that way. “He’s been right out of the woodwork,” Dobie said. “He’s been one of the top guys there.”
It’s a neat little story: Though Ross is turning heads at Bisons camp, his younger brother is the more experienced football player in the family. Inspired by watching his brother play, Ross “wanted to follow along,” he said. So he played in high school and then joined the St. Vital Mustangs major (18-22) team.
The football bug stuck: A little while ago, Ross signed up with local football trainers Recruit Ready, and snagged an invite to the Bisons’ spring camp.
“Apparently, I’ve got some talent,” he said. “I’m just trying to see where it can go… I’m trying to fit in, and do as much as I can.”
Another receiver who caught Dobie’s eye has made a big impression before.
The head coach first spotted Cassidy Obijiaku a few years ago, when the Brandon receiver was playing in the U16 Red River Cup. Impressed by the youngster’s hands, Dobie agreed to keep in touch, but never followed up. Then last spring, at a seven-on-seven passing camp, their paths crossed again.
Dobie was thrilled to get a second chance at recruiting the receiver. At 17, he’s run the 40-yards in 4.59 seconds, one of the fastest times on the team.
“He’s looked good,” Dobie said, stressing the last word. “He’s got a rawness to him, but he’s got things you can’t coach.”
For Obijiaku, who graduates from Brandon’s Vincent Massey this year, the chance to stick with the Bisons also means the chance to follow in the footsteps of a hometown hero, recently retired NFLer Israel Idonije.
“He’s had an extremely successful career,” Obijiaku said. “That worked out for him, it can work out for me, too.”
Of course, receivers weren’t the only position of interest at camp. Of the approximately 130 players who turned out over the weekend, about 84 will be with the Bisons when their regular training camp begins in August.
The crop is strong enough, Dobie said, they might bring in a few more players than there are stalls in their locker-room.
“The goal is to get to 84, and I’m not sure if we can do it,” Dobie said. “If all the guys we offer were to accept, I can see it’d be over. It’s going to be real tough, and I think we’re going to lean to maybe trying to cut some lockers out of the old Butler building. I’m literally serious about that.”
Coaches expect to make some of those roster decisions in about two weeks, after Dobie returns from a trip to the East West Bowl and a recruiting jaunt out east. To help with the process, coaches gave veterans fewer reps than they have in spring camps past.
“We want to really do the best we can to evaluate the younger kids,” Dobie said. “It’s a win for us, it’s a win for the Winnipeg Rifles, it’s a win for the Manitoba major league. The Rifles are going to be real happy… they’re going to get a truckload of CIS and CJFL-ready players.”
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.