Intro to Canadian Studies: Quiet week for star Canadians allows up-and-comers to shine

Photo courtesy: Michael J. Okoniewski/Syracuse Athletics

We have reached the most beautiful time of the year.

When the Mid-American Conference returns to play with a full slate of MACtion on Wednesday, it means that football will be on television every single day of the week for the next month.

Forget Santa Claus, that is better than Christmas.

Of course, we can’t let the tantalizing prospect of near constant football distract us from our studies. Week 9 was a quiet one for many of the NCAA’s biggest Canadian stars, but there were still plenty of performances worthy of inclusion in this week’s lecture. Time to take out your notebooks and learn about the very best.

Top of the Class

1. OLB Tyrell Richards, JR, Syracuse Orange (Brampton, Ont.)

Photo courtesy: Michael J. Okoniewski/Syracuse Athletics

Tyrell Richards was built for the spotlight and the Canadian defender has become a difference maker off the edge since re-earning his starting role.

In a loss to Wake Forest, Richards was the Orange’s best player on either side of the football and made himself known to quarterback Sam Hartman. He finished the day with four total pressures, recording one sack, two quarterback hits and one hurry. He also added five tackles in the run game and 1.5 tackles for loss

It was an excellent performance that earned him a 79.7 Pro Football Focus grade, higher than any other Canadian this week.

Richards is hitting his stride at the right time. Despite Syracuse’s struggles, look for Richards to be a big name over the next two years and a major prospect in the 2022 CFL Draft.

2. WLB Enock Makonzo, JR, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (LaChine, Que.)

For the second week in a row, Enock Makonzo is on the ‘Top of the Class’ podium.

While he didn’t have the eye-catching sacks from a week ago, Makonzo was everywhere on the field as his Chanticleers continued their historic march up the AP Top 25 with a 51-0 demolition of Georgia State.

The linebacker made seven tackles, including one for a loss, and didn’t allow a single yard receiving. Georgia State might not be the best team in the country, but a 79.3 PFF grade that rose to 82.7 against the run can’t be dismissed based simply on level of competition.

Coastal Carolina continues to be one of the NCAA’s best stories and Makonzo is a big reason why.

3. RB Chase Brown, SO, Illinois Fighting Illini (London, Ont.)

While Chuba Hubbard always garners headlines regardless of how well he plays, Week 9 was a coming out party for another Canadian back who gained one more yard than the Canadian Cowboy, but did it in 15 fewer carries.

Brown was featured heavily in the rotation this week for Illinois and he delivered with 73 yards on just 10 carries, as well as one reception for another five. That included a 30 yard run that showed off both his vision and burst. With a 7.3 yard per carry average in a loss to Purdue, Brown dwarfed Hubbard’s 2.88 average against Texas.

The Western Michigan transfer who joined Illinois last season to be with his twin brother Sydney, their starting safety, has not yet been fully utilized and Saturday was just a taste of what is to come.

Notes on the Margins

WLB Jesse Luketa, JR, Penn State Nittany Lions (Ottawa, Ont.)

When you’re suspended for the first half of a major rivalry game because of a targeting penalty, you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities. That is exactly what Luketa did Saturday against Ohio State.

In only a half of action, the pride of Ottawa made eight tackles and recorded a quarterback hurry. Though Luketa’s overall PFF grade was just 61.5 — brought down by average pass rush and poor positioning in coverage — he earned an incredible 87.3 mark against the run.

That’s what you want from your linebackers and just a glimpse of the season that Luketa is poised to put together as he takes over for projected NFL first-round pick Micah Parsons.

FS Ben Labrosse, FR, Syracuse Orange (Greenfield Park, Que.)

Syracuse has become a hotbed of Canadian stars, with Richards, Geoff Cantin-Arku and Matthew Bergeron all making regular appearances on this list in 2020. The next one appears to already be in-house with the freshman defensive back carving himself a neat little niche with the Orange.

The first-year Quebecer has been a stalwart on special teams in every game he’s played and the last two weeks have seen him get extended looks on defence. Against Wake Forest, Labrosse took 35 snaps at the Rover position as an injury replacement and didn’t look out of place.

He didn’t stand out on the box score, recording just one tackle, but he ended up as the third highest-graded defender with a 76.5 according to PFF. That’s just spitting distance from Richards at the top of the class. He’s already progressing in his first college season and Labrosse should be more than just a kick covering demon going forward.

Re-Submit Assignment

CB Benjamin St-Juste, JR, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Montreal, Que.)

There were a couple of candidates for criticism among Canadians this week. Dontae Bull struggled mightily as a pass blocker for Fresno State and DK Bonhomme drew the ire of PFF in a rotational role for Indiana, but ultimately it’s St-Juste who gets the dubious honour.

After receiving praise in this article a week ago, the graduate student fell victim to Taulia Tagovailoa — the younger brother of the Miami Dolphins’ 2020 first-round pick — and a supercharged Maryland offence that exploited him in spectacular fashion.

St-Juste managed four tackles but missed another and was targeted often by the second coming of Tagovailoa. He allowed four catches on the night for 99 yards, more than any other Golden Gopher.

A significant chunk of that yardage came on a 76-yard Jeshaun Jones touchdown which St-Juste pathetically trailed, seeming to make no attempt to oppose his opponent’s run to the end zone. It would turn out to be a key play in a massive Terrapins overtime upset.

St-Juste came up against a quarterback with a hot hand and his performance, as well as his team’s, likely says more about Tagovailoa than it does about themselves. Still, his 55.4 PFF grade looks bad and the big plays will look worse when scouts pop on the tape this offseason.

Class Attendance

DT Alex Dumais, SO, Fresno State: 27 defensive snaps, two tackles, one sack

LT Dontae Bull, JR, Fresno State: 79 offensive snaps, two sacks allowed, four hurries allowed

REC Nick Mardner, SO, Hawai’i: 28 offensive snaps, one drop

DE Luiji Vilain, SR, Michigan: Three defensive snaps

FS Alonzo Addae, SR, West Virginia: 59 defensive snaps, eight tackles

DE Akheem Mesidor, FR, West Virginia: 28 defensive snaps, two tackles, one sack

FS Sydney Brown, JR, Illinois: 64 defensive snaps, seven tackles

LT Matthew Bergeron, SO, Syracuse: 60 offensive snaps, zero pressures allowed, two penalties

REC Damian Alford, FR, Syracuse: Five offensive snaps, one reception, three yards

MLB Geoff Cantin-Arku, SO, Syracuse: 37 defensive snaps, four tackles, one quarterback hit, two hurries

LT Alaric Jackson, SR, Iowa: 75 offensive snaps, two pressures allowed, one penalty

NT Olivier Charles-Pierre, SR, Houston: 29 defensive snaps, two tackles

REC Ajou Ajou, FR, Clemson: Dressed on special teams

REC Ezechiel Tieide, SO, Boston College: Dressed on special teams

MLB Amen Ogbongbemiga, SR, Oklahoma State: 76 defensive snaps, 10 tackles, one sack

RB Chuba Hubbard, JR, Oklahoma State: 80 defensive snaps, 25 carries, 72 yards, four receptions, 34 yards, one touchdown

PK Gabe Siemieniec, SR, Louisiana Tech: Six kickoffs, 326 yards, 54.3 average, two touchbacks

OLB DK Bonhomme, SO, Indiana: 24 defensive snaps, three tackles

OLB Tavius Robinson, JR, Ole Miss: 28 defensive snaps, two tackles, three hurries

CB Deane Leonard, SR, Ole Miss: 19 defensive snaps

REC John Metchie III, SO, Alabama: 63 offensive snaps, three receptions, 18 yards

FS Jonathan Sutherland, JR, Penn State: 25 defensive snaps, one tackle

CB Patrice Rene, SR, North Carolina: 70 defensive snaps, three tackles

REC Terrell Jana, SR, Virginia: 59 offensive snaps, three receptions, 36 yards

NT Samuel Obiang, SO, Texas State: 40 defensive snaps, two tackles

DT Daniel Okpoko, SO, San Diego State: Two defensive snaps

Rostered but not dressed: RG Patrick Davis, SR, Syracuse / DE Wilt Gabe II, SO, Coastal Carolina / TE Theo Johnson, FR, Penn State / REC Malick Meiga, FR, Penn State / OL Tyrell Lawrence, FR, Minnesota / TE Bruno Labelle, SR, Cincinnati / OLB Isaiah Bagnah, FR, Boise State / DT Lamar Goods, FR, Florida

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.