Six players to watch at the Western Regional Combine (and one wild card to shake up the draft)

Photo courtesy: John Gaudes/Bisons Sports

Most Outstanding Rookie Jordan Williams. Olympian Jacob Dearborn. Starters like Shaq Johnson, Jordan Hoover, Jermaine Gabriel and Shai Ross, as well as special teams difference-makers like Nigel Romick, Kerfalla Exume and Ante Milanovic-Litre. All these players have become recognizable names and all share one thing in common.

Their road to the CFL began at a Regional Combine.

CFL Draft season kicked off in earnest last week with two of the three Regional Combines, a chance for prospects on the fringes to earn an invitation to the National Combine in Toronto on March 25-27 or make a team fall in love with them enough to take a chance on draft day.

While these events are a chance for those completely under-the-radar to shock the league, 3DownNation has been looking ahead to each Combine with a list of the top prospects to watch and one wild card with a chance to surprise everyone.

Here is who you should know about at the Western Regional Combine in Edmonton tomorrow, the final opportunity for players ahead of the big show in Toronto.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

Diego Alatorre, OL, UBC (Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, Mexico)

A born and raised product of Mexico, Alatorre will get his shot at the CFL as a National instead of Global thanks to new rules concerning foreign-born U Sports graduates. In a weaker OL class than years previous, the Mexican national team standout shouldn’t be counted out.

Canadian university recruits rarely generate any hype but Alatorre had people buzzing when he arrived in Point Grey, with head coach Blake Nill going so far as to call him the best freshman OL prospect he’d coached since Sukh Chungh. Alatorre never quite lived up to that comparison, but he was a three-year starter at tackle before becoming a Canada West all-star at guard as a senior.

At six-foot-three and 305 pounds, Alatorre might fit best at centre in the CFL. He’s more raw than you’d like from a player of his age, but his versatility, active feet, and nasty edge are tools any good line coach can work with.

Photo courtesy: Dave Mahussier/Bisons Sports

Marcel Arruda-Welch, DB, Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB)

It’s not every year that a first team All-Canadian corner has to battle his way to the National Combine through the Regional circuit — especially not one who needed only three games to earn the honour.

It’s perhaps fitting, as the electrifying Arruda-Welch has always taken an unconventional path. The six-foot, 187-pounder had already been a Canada West All-Star as both a defensive back and returner when he did a stint in the CJFL with the Valley Huskers.

His return to Manitoba two years later proved he hasn’t lost the early career magic and Arruda-Welch could produce some impressive testing numbers. In the end, his evaluation will come down to teams weighing his high end traits against some mental lapses.

Photo courtesy: Piper Sports Photography/Regina Rams

Brandon Gandire, DB, Regina (Marietta, GA)

An American-born defensive back who played high school in Chilliwack and junior ball with the Westshore Rebels, Gandire has a lot of attributes CFL teams will find enticing.

At six-foot-one and 190-pounds, the Canada West All-Star corner has some length and physicality to his game, with the ability to make plays with his eyes on the QB in zone coverage. He could show of some explosiveness in testing, but teams will have questions about a high profile on-campus assault charge in 2018 that was later dropped.

Photo courtesy: Dave Mahussier/Bisons Sports

Gavin Cobb, REC, Manitoba (Victoria, BC)

At one point the top high school football player in the province of British Columbia, Cobb spent three seasons at Simon Fraser before transferring to Manitoba. While he’s never quite reached MVP heights in his collegiate career, the 2021 Canada West all-star returner has never not been a contributor.

Lightning fast in the open field with the ability to make you miss in space, Cobb should be a stand-out in the one-on-ones. It will be his weigh-in that matters most however, as the receiver — who now claims to be five-foot-ten and 190 pounds — was once listed at a pint-sized 160 by his previous school.

Photo courtesy: David Moll/Dinos Athletics

Matthew Lucyshyn, DB, Calgary (Calgary, AB)

If you were to write an article about the most underrated players in U Sports, you might as well just start and end with Matthew Lucyshyn.

The promising young engineer has been a major contributor in the Dinos’ secondary since day one on campus, with 113 tackles, five interceptions and 18 pass deflections in 30 career games.

With a thin frame, you wouldn’t think twice about Lucyshyn if you passed him walking down the street, but the intelligent and instinctual defender has a knack for making plays beyond his athletic ability.

Photo courtesy: NFL Draft Diamonds

Donovan Burgmaier, DL, Alberta (Sherwood Park, AB)

Burgmaier’s college production has left a lot to be desired, but you rarely see six-foot-five, 250-pounders who have taken snaps off the line of scrimmage at the U Sports level.

The Alberta product will draw comparisons to shocking 2021 first round pick Cole Nelson for that reason, but likely won’t test with the same freakish athletic numbers. He has been a bigger contributor than Nelson was however, with size and strength you can’t teach.

If team’s want a project pass rusher with special teams upside, Burgmaier could be the guy.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Thunderbirds

Wild Card: Ted Kubongo, RB, UBC (Calgary, AB)

88 yards rushing and 69 yards receiving represent the sum total of Kubongo’s university career, but the Calgarian was once a dynamic high school recruit who earned an opportunity at the University of Maine.

Things didn’t work out in the NCAA and his three years at UBC weren’t much better, with injury derailing his final season. Nevertheless, Kubongo is going to check some key measurable boxes and will have one of the best running back frames in the draft at five-foot-11 and 210 pounds.

University isn’t for everyone and a strong performance Friday could make Kubongo a worthwhile gamble late.

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.