University of British Columbia
Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
Career Statistics: 41 games; 234 receptions; 3,324 yards; 30 touchdowns; 2,202 return yards; 1 kickoff return touchdown; 23 tackles, 2 interceptions; 1 forced fumble
Drafting in any sport is a gamble. Prospects are not stable elements. Even a perfect talent evaluation has to be weighed against the uncontrollable. Is the prospect durable? Does he have the character you covet in an employee? Does he have any red flags?
On pure talent alone, you could argue that Trivel Pinto is the best receiver in the 2020 CFL draft. Yet the former star of the UBC Thunderbirds knows he still has a lot of work to do to explain his past.
“It was the last game of the regular season in 2018,” said Pinto. “We were playing Manitoba. They tested me after the game and it had happened earlier that week. I was out with some friends, we had a few drinks and we ended up making, obviously, a bad decision.”
Up until that point, Pinto was one of the top prospects in the 2019 draft class. The results of a post-game drug test came back positive for cocaine and all that changed.
Despite its recreational uses, cocaine is classified as a banned substance by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). Pinto’s drunken mistake meant a two-year ban from U Sports competition and forced the deferment of his CFL draft year. Now that he’s eligible again, it means the prospect is under the microscope as teams attempt to justify their potential investment.
“I wasn’t really in my right mind and it was a one-off. I don’t blame anyone, it was my mistake and my decision. I’ve faced the consequences,” said Pinto.
“Obviously people are going to have their opinion of me. The people that actually know me, my family, my friends and the coaching staff, they know what type of player I am and the type of person that I am. That’s not me. That not where I’m going.”
While teams may focus on what Pinto and those close to him describe as an uncharacteristic error, put on the tape and the talent speaks for itself. You see a cerebral player with a strong understanding of the game and the athleticism to rapidly translate that into success on any given play. According to Pinto, that full-field understanding is courtesy of a unique football journey.
“I was a quarterback all through high school. In the summers we have a league called the OVFL, that’s where I started playing receiver. Once high school started, I would go back and forth. I kind of developed both sides. I started seeing a lot of success in the OVFL — by Grade 10 I think I broke two receiving records. That’s when I said, ‘Okay, receiver might be the way to go.'”
After a year out of school trying to earn an opportunity south of the border, the Toronto native found a home on the West coast and became an instant contributor on UBC’s Vanier Cup winning squad in 2015, as a starting receiver and returner. Little did he know that his positional flip-flopping wasn’t quite over yet.
“That was in my second year. I believe the second game of the season we were in Calgary and a few guys got injured. It was next man up — with away games you don’t travel with as many people. We didn’t have enough [defensive backs] on the depth chart,” explained Pinto.
“Coach put in me and Marcus [Davis, Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ receiver] at one point, just trying to see what the best option was. He ended up sticking with me and the next week I wound up starting on both offence and defence. It was that way for most of the season.”
Pinto was more than just serviceable at cornerback as well, notching two interceptions. In one memorable late September matchup against Manitoba, he picked off one pass and caught three offensive touchdowns while putting up 244 receiving yards. He also continued to contribute on special teams.
That season as a triple threat dramatically altered the way that Pinto sees the game.
“Going through defensive meetings, defensive practices, and working on that type of technique, I was seeing the game from a different side,” said Pinto.
“I think it opened my eyes and expanded my knowledge a lot. Just being able to read defences better and understand their weak spots, where their zones are and how to sit down in them.”
That knowledge comes through when you watch Pinto play. Few players in U Sports have ever been able to set up defenders and separate themselves better than the man who became Michael O’Connor’s favourite target.
In Pinto’s opinion, that comes down to a dedication to the craft of route-running.
“Route-running is something I’m always working on. My body position coming in and out of my cuts, being efficient with those cuts and having no wasted steps,” said Pinto.
“Having the right body lean, they say chest over toes, and getting my hips down. I’ve been working on change-of-pace in my routes a lot. Being able to switch it up and maintain timing with the quarterback.”
That isn’t the part of his game that Pinto is most proud of, however. Once a weakness, the receiver emphasizes a new found commitment to the more unsung aspects of his position.
“I’ve improved my physicality. I’ve gotten better as a blocker. I’ve seen an increase in my effectiveness, and coaches and players have seen it as well,” he said.
With the year off from football, Pinto has had plenty of time to dedicate to the development of his game. In many ways, he feels it was a blessing in disguise that has redefined his relationship with his body. He’s become a proponent of yoga, eaten better, and recently learned to juggle for improved hand-eye coordination. He has also been training hard with AirRaid Academy, a Vancouver-based group that has produced high-calibre receivers like projected top NFL draft prospect Chase Claypool.
“I definitely feel like I’m better off now than if I would have entered the league last year,” Pinto admitted.
That commitment to training has paid off. At his virtual pro day, the five-foot-10, 195-pound athlete burned a 4.47 forty-yard dash to go along with a 4.23 shuttle and a 6.74 three-cone.
With numbers like those, Pinto has proven he can be a versatile weapon. His versatility is part of the reason why CFL teams will still be clamouring to draft his past.
“Some guys are just deep threats. I feel like I’m a deep threat, but you could also give me a screen and I’ll take it to the house,” said Pinto. “They’ve put me around the backfield a little bit, jet sweeps and that sort of thing. I can run the short routes, shallow crossing routes, intermediate stuff — it doesn’t matter.”
While some might interpret that as bragging, it is actually a fair assessment of the electric play-maker’s potential. To reach it, Pinto knows he has to reassure his potential employers.
“I’m humble. When I come to practice I’m working hard and I’m paying attention in meetings. In the film room, on the field, I’m definitely in tune with what I’m doing. I’m always looking for ways to improve and looking for ways to help the other guys,” said Pinto.
When he gets drafted, the receiver feels his struggles will help his success at the next level rather than hinder it.
“A loss isn’t a loss unless you don’t learn from it,” said Pinto. “I’ve definitely learned from my mistake.”
Anonymous quote from a CFL scout: “Pinto is an electrifying talent and arguably the most gifted play-maker in the draft, but there is a worry about whether more off field issues derail him — fair or not.”
Projected Round: 2-3