Winnipeg receiver turning heads
Teen sensation weighs options as high school career comes to an end
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The label ‘generational player’ is thrown around much too casually these days.
For the talent evaluators who have watched 18-year-old Winnipegger Mekhi Tyrell play football, the description fits like a glove.
The 6-1, 190-pound wide receiver has drawn NCAA interest from some of the biggest and best programs in Division I football — Alabama, Penn State, Ole Miss and Oklahoma — but issues with his academic qualifications are threatening to snuff out hopes of a college career.
“I have multiple schools that want me but I need to boost my GPA before I hit them up,” said Tyrell last week just prior to returning to complete his school year at Clarkson Football North, a Mississauga, Ont., prep school. “I want to finish my classes but I don’t know what I’m gonna do for my options.”
Should his academics not improve sufficiently, Tyrell has at least two CFL teams — the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions — interested in making him a territorial exemption under junior eligibility rules. He would need to sign with Rifles to be eligible to join the Bombers for training camp or a B.C.-based Canadian Junior Football League squad to qualify for the Lions.
“We have a relationship with the Winnipeg Rifles and every year we have players come to our training camp and we’d like to grow that as a way to have territorial picks every year,” said Bombers CEO Wade Miller. “And so, as long as a player is going to meet the standard that our football operations guys and scouts are always looking for, we’d love to have those guys at training camp.”
As a general rule, CFL teams carry junior players on their practice roster but not as young as Tyrell. In 2022, Winnipeg had receiver Luke McMillan, a 22-year-old local product who played for the Rifles, on its practice roster. McMillan was never promoted to the active roster.
One of Tyrell’s closest confidantes, Recruit Ready founder Brad Black, says his pupil, a 4.57 man in the 40-yard dash, is the most polished prospect he’s ever seen coming out of high school and is considered the No. 1 receiver prospect in Canada.
It’s still not clear which route Tyrell will take.
“I hope it’s school now but if it isn’t, it will be somewhere playing in the CFL or at a camp,” said Black. “He has to go via a junior team, he can’t sign just a free agent. He’s too young… He would have to sign with a junior team. It could be here (in Winnipeg), we’ve been talking to Edmonton or potentially B.C., So it could be one of those three teams.”
Blue Bombers receiver Nic Demski, who also serves on Recruit Ready’s coaching staff, said Tyrell would not be out of place at a CFL training camp.
“It would be mind-blowing for sure,” said Demski, who debuted in the CFL as a 21-year-old. “Usually, you’ve got to wait your four years (in college) in order to play in a pro system. So if that wasn’t the case, maybe there would be more 18-year-olds out there playing professional football. I guess you just don’t really know until the opportunity is there.”
Playing for Murdoch MacKay Collegiate in Grade 10, Tyrell tore up the Winnipeg High School Football League before transferring to Football North two years ago.
“He does some things you can’t teach, right?” said Football North head coach Larry Jusdanis. “He high-points balls, he adjusts in the air to footballs, makes people miss. He’s got soft hands and he’s got late hands, which is an art as a receiver. He runs really, really good routes. He’s the real deal.”
But is Tyrell, who Jusdanis calls one of the top five players to go through his program, ready for the pro game?
“Physically for sure,” said Demski. “I mean, he’s a physical athlete. He’s explosive. He’s fast. He understands football real well. So is he going to be able to pick up a professional playbook right away? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, that’s the beautiful thing about practice rosters — it takes time to develop those players.”
Tyrell has a healthy respect for the pro game.
“I would be (scary) to go big leagues and everything but, honestly, I feel like I’m ready,” he said. “I always wanted to challenge and like I haven’t found it in a while,” said Tyrell.
The major college route remains a tantalizing option for Tyrell, who visited powerhouse programs at Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Alabama on one trip last spring. In Tuscaloosa, he participated in Nick Saban’s Football Camp and got the thrill of a lifetime when he was summoned to the Alabama coach’s office.
“I’m talking with my guys and I’m, ‘What the hell, we’re about to meet Nick Saban right now!’ ” said Tyrell. “You walk in his room. All of these (championship) rings, oh, it was amazing. I was like a fan boy.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Thursday, January 12, 2023 8:47 PM CST: Adds missing word
Updated on Friday, January 13, 2023 12:30 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Jusdanis