Mark Mackie stepped onto the elevator at his Regina hotel last week and found himself face-to-face with B.C. Lions general manager and football legend Wally Buono. Mackie, a McMaster Marauder defensive end in town for the CFL combine, introduced himself to the man they call “the Godfather.”
“I didn’t know what to say so I just stared at him a little bit – it’s a little surreal to meet the coaches you’ve watched so long on television,” Mackie said. “It was kinda awkward but I’ve been like a little kid out here. It’s been so cool.”
If Buono didn’t know who Mackie was before the combine, he certainly does now. After earning his way to the national showcase in Regina with an outstanding showing at the Toronto regional event, Mackie put together another dominant performance in the all-important one-on-one session that pits offensive linemen against the defensive counterparts in an on-field simulation.
“I think you have to find where you can separate yourself from other guys,” Mackie said. “With middle of-the-pack testing numbers, the one-one-ones were crucial for me and to do well in it was everything I hoped for.”
While Mackie was getting himself noticed, his teammate Danny Vandervoort was busy solidfying his already sky-high draft stock. Ranked No. 6 in the December rankings from the CFL scouting bureau, Vandervoort posted solid testing numbers, then put on a show in the one-on-one drills by making a number of tough catches.
“I think the one-on-ones is where you make your money,” Vandervoort said. “You can test well and that’s great but you have to catch the ball. That’s what separated me.”
While Mackie interviewed with three teams – Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal – Vandervoort had sit downs with all nine CFL squads. The most unusual session, according Vandervoort, was with Saskatchewan who had more than 20 people in the room as well as a camera from broadcaster TSN.
To prepare, Vandervoort watched YouTube clips from previous CFL combine interview sessions and got some advice from veteran receiver Andy Fantuz, who called him after Vandervoort signed with the same agent.
“I looked up to him growing and it’s great that it turns out that he’s a cool guy that is willing to share his experience,” Vandervoort said.
While Vandervoort is a lock a to be a high draft pick – the Ticats, with selections at No. 4 and 13, make sense – Mackie will be waiting anxiously into the later rounds. Undersized at 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, his best hope is to make a team as a high-motor special teams guy.
And if Mackie needs a reference, teams can certainly call his roommate Vandervoort.
“He’s a great athlete and a great player and I was surprised he didn’t get an invite straight to the national combine,” Vandervoort said. “I’m glad he showed what he can do here, I’m really proud of him.”
For Mackie, the combine performance was just the latest in a string of improbable events that have led him to the cusp of a CFL career. At some point, he may become a little less starstruck but it’s not happening anytime soon.
“I was the fat kid in high school who got a little skinnier, learned to play football, then went to the gym to move as much weight as possible and get strong enough to compete,” he said. “If you told Grade 11 Mark ‘hey, you’ll be at CFL Combine one day,’ I wouldn’t have believed it.”