Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund is a name most Canadian football fans have not yet heard.
That’s because, while he’s one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, he’s never been close to the Canadian Football League — literally.
The six-foot-two, 243-pound defensive end recently finished his NCAA career at Southeastern Louisiana University, located 2,000 kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border. CFL football hasn’t been played anywhere near there since the Shreveport Pirates folded in 1995.
It’s not that Adeyemi-Berglund didn’t want to play close to home after high school. Things just didn’t work out that way.
The two-time LSWA All-Louisiana selection grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with Acadia, St. Mary’s, St. FX, and Mount Allison all within a two-hour drive of his home. Scholarship offers were scarce following his graduation from Dartmouth High School, however, with only one school (Acadia) making him a $1,000 offer.
“I knew I had a lot of other schools that would basically be close to offering me, but they were like, ‘Wait, what’s wrong with you? Why does nobody else want to offer you?’ I didn’t have an answer for them,” said Adeyemi-Berglund.
Deciding Acadia’s offer was unacceptable, the pass rusher elected to attend CEGEP in Quebec for one year at Champlain Regional College.
Southeastern Louisiana approached Adeyemi-Berglund at the end of the 2015-2016 school year and offered him a scholarship. Head coach and defensive coordinator Ron Roberts (now the defensive coordinator at Baylor University) and linebackers coach Aaron Schwanz (now an analyst at LSU) saw him as a versatile player who could contribute on defence and special teams.
Adeyemi-Berglund arrived on campus as a 225-pound interior linebacker, though he would make the transition to defensive end two years later. To this day, he does not know how Southeastern Louisiana got a hold of his film from high school.
After redshirting his first year and playing sparingly as a sophomore, Adeyemi-Berglund became a full-time starter as a junior in 2018. He would record 135 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, 10 pass breakups, and six forced fumbles in 24 starts over two seasons.
He attended the College Gridiron Showcase in January 2020 where he spoke with representatives from the Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Though he’s slightly undersized for the American game, scouts see him developing into a solid pass rusher in the CFL.
“They really want me to be a defensive end. They think that I’m a good pass rusher and that I have good speed,” said Adeyemi-Berglund, who sees his pass-rushing style well-suited to the Canadian game with the full yard off the ball.
“The yard is a big deal. If you can gain that yard with speed off the edge, it’s a big deal.”
One of Adeyemi-Berglund’s biggest upsides is his experience on special teams, something CFL teams covet in the draft.
He was the Lions’ strong-side upback on punts where he was responsible for adjusting formations and calling fakes. He also played on kickoff and kickoff return, though he was taken off kickoffs midway through 2019 due to the importance of his role on defence.
“I like to smash people,” he said. “I don’t have any problem playing special teams.”
The national combine was going to be Adeyemi-Berglund’s opportunity to meet with CFL teams prior to the draft. The interview process is important for all prospects, but especially for a player who has spent his entire playing career so far removed from the league.
He’s hoping his film and his level of competition is enough for scouts to consider him a top-ranked talent.
“I feel like I’m a really good player. I feel like I’m one of the premier pass rushers in the CFL draft,” he said. “I played in the SEC. I played against Ole Miss and LSU. I played against the Heisman Trophy winner and sacked him three times.”
That last part is true. Though his team lost the game by a score of 31-0, Adeyemi-Berglund harassed Joe Burrow — who is projected to be the first-overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft — throughout the game. You can watch all three sacks here.
While he enjoyed playing for Southeastern Louisiana, Adeyemi-Berglund is looking forward to returning to his home country. Born in the Maritimes, he has never seen a live CFL game.
“I want to play in Canada, man. I’ve been in the [United] States for so long, being able to come home and play for a team that wants me. Just to play in Canada, man, that would be amazing.”