Top-ranked prospect skipping the CFL Combine

David Onyemata will be conspicuous by his absence at the CFL’s national combine.

That’s because the top-ranked CIS prospect for this year’s CFL draft will hold a historic workout Monday at the University of Manitoba. Onyemata, 23, will become the first Bison player to stage a pro day that’s expected to attract as many as 16 NFL scouts.

Heady stuff considering the burly defensive tackle began playing football just five years ago upon arriving at Manitoba. A 2015 first team All-Canadian, he’s now represented by Carter Chow, one of NFL superstar Tom Brady’s agents.

“I didn’t know about that (being first Bison to stage pro day) until Monday and I’m pretty pumped,” Onyemata said during a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t think there’s going to be any pressure.

“I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Pro days are a staple of NFL teams’ evaluation and preparation for the annual league draft but rare in Canada as few CIS players garner such attention. The top eligible CFL draft prospects are invited to the league’s national combine in Toronto, where they work out for and meet with officials from all nine teams.

However, neither Iowa receiver Tavaun Smith nor Onyemata, ranked 1-2 respectively by the CFL scouting bureau for the draft in May, will be at the combine. Both are preparing for their respective pro days with Smith scheduled to strut his stuff at Iowa on March 21.

So Toronto native Josiah St. John, a six-foot-six, 308-pound offensive lineman at Oklahoma, will be the top draft prospect at the combine, which runs Saturday and Sunday. St. John was ranked No. 3 by theCFL scouting bureau.

On Monday, Onyemata will be officially measured and weighed before performing the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press. Then he’ll do his on-field workout, running the 40-yard dash and agility exercises before doing specific defensive line drills.

And Onyemata can’t wait.

“I’ve been training for combine testing for like a couple of months so right now I just want to get done with it and get ready for football,” Onyemata said. “Five years ago I didn’t even know about this process but I’m just comfortable right now.

“That’s the biggest part for me.”

The six-foot-four, 300-pound Onyemata captured the 2015 Metras Trophy as Canadian university football’s top lineman after registering 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He also participated in the East-West Shrine game Jan. 23 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Despite his inexperience, Onyemata would’ve been a legitimate first-round CFL draft pick. But his stock will undoubtedly drop if _ or when _ Onyemata signs an NFL deal, something Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins says is definitely possible.

“He’s raw in terms of football ability because he hasn’t played a lot of football,” said Desjardins. “It’s still something he’s learning and getting better at.

“He’s got all the physical attributes. Can he transition those into being effective as a football player? Indicators are that, yes, he can.”

Onyemata became the first Manitoba player to win the Metras Trophy since Israel Idonije in ’02. Like Onyemata, the six-foot-six, 275-pound Idonije was born in Nigeria but immigrated to Brandon, Man., with his family when he was four years old.

Idonije began playing football in high school before heading to Manitoba. Selected in ’03 by the now defunct Ottawa Renegades, Idonije headed to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, playing 11 seasons with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions (2003-13).

Onyemata first met Idonije years ago at the former NFL player’s annual football camp in Winnipeg and the two struck up a friendship. Onyemata said he appreciates the football and life lessons Idonije can provide him with a quick text or simple telephone call.

Onyemata acknowledges the challenges his football inexperience presents but feels his physical ability and potential far outweigh that.

“I want to show how I go about the game, the passion I have for the game,” he said. “I think I have speed, I have strength and a good work ethic also.”

Onyemata said his training has progressed well and he’s in top form heading into his pro day. And while he’s looking forward to testing in all his scheduled events, Onyemata wouldn’t predict how he’ll do, preferring to let his actions do the talking Monday.

“I’m not going to jinx it,” he said. “We’ll have to wait (until Monday).”

– CP