Hometown: Brampton, Ont.
Statistics: 19 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one pass deflection, one forced fumble
Julien Laurent. Faith Ekakitie. Randy Colling. Evan Gill. Daryl Waud. Ese Mrabure. Linden Gaydosh.
Recent CFL history has shown that, for a variety of reasons often outside a player’s control, drafting a Canadian defensive tackle high can be perilous. This year, the top end of that position group is so high that several teams will happily ignore the long list of past pitfalls.
One of the players that has teams licking their collective chops is Sam Acheampong, an explosive big man from the pass rushing factory of Wilfrid Laurier.
Growing up, Acheampong’s first love was basketball but he changed paths in high school due to some emerging physical limitations in the sport.
“In high school, I was getting too big for it,” Acheampong laughs.
Acheampong found a new sporting focus as an offensive lineman for his high school team. Once he was allowed to play both ways as a senior, he quickly realized his future would be terrorizing quarterbacks rather than protecting them. With that in mind, Wilfrid Laurier became the obvious choice for university, thanks to a crop of dominant U Sports pass rushers including Kwaku Boateng and Robbie Smith.
“They were always on me just to be better. I feel like I’ve just been around the best and had one of the best defensive coordinators in U Sports in Coach Ron [VanMoerkerke]. It made me understand how being part of a system is important. If we all do our jobs, we can all be successful.”
They say iron sharpens iron and Acheampong has transformed into a formidable weapon with which to penetrate an offensive front. When you turn on the tape, he has an explosive first step that jumps off the screen and quick hands that rival any in the draft.
“I have one of the quickest get-offs as a defensive lineman and I always try to hit offensive linemen before they hit me,” says the OUA All-Star, though it’s something that he believes came naturally.
“I came in at 245 [pounds] and played d-tackle. I was kind of a small kid, so I just had to put weight on. I always got it in my head to hit offensive linemen before they hit me — deliver the punch or I could get swallowed up.”
That lack of size is no longer an issue with Acheampong standing at six-foot-four and 275-pounds, but his emphasis on quickness has remained. He’s a twitchy athlete with a motor that simply doesn’t quit.
While many prospects tout their strengths, few are willing to admit weaknesses. That’s not the case with Acheampong, who feels his ceiling as a prospect is still a ways away.
“I play a bit high and I’m also a tall defensive lineman, so that doesn’t work to my advantage,” he admits. “I have a lot of potential to be a better player.”
That’s an accurate self-assessment. Acheampong will need to play lower to succeed at the next level and can be stiff in his upper body. Other prospects may have a more reliable floor, but no U Sports player has his potential to get after the quarterback.
Stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the defensive tackle is doing his best to get ready for a potential season with a strict regime of body weight exercises, though he’s placing a special emphasis on nutrition.
“I try to eat better than normal, just to avoid the barrel,” he told me laughing, once again showing his jovial side.
The loss of the CFL combine stings for Acheampong, as he was expecting his performance to spark a rise in draft stock.
“I would have shocked some people. Even though my East-West Bowl numbers weren’t the best, I was crushing those. I was expecting to run 4.9-ish [time in the forty-yard dash].”
Had he been able to show off that level of athleticism, it could have only helped Acheampong achieve his dreams. That is especially true because the disappointing East-West Bowl testing numbers he refers to were still the best among defensive tackles.
That’s a consistent theme when speaking to Acheampong: improving on the success he’s already had. His sales pitch to teams can be summed up fairly easily.
“I’m not a finished product,” he says. “I’m still pretty good, but I can be better.”
Anonymous quote from a scout: “That kid is really well put together at six-four, 275. He could sneak into the first round if a team falls in love with him.”
Projected Round: 2