It’s back-to-school time across the country and that means only one thing: the return of university football.
U Sports teams in the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario are scheduled to kick off the 2022 season on August 27, with Western Canada joining in the action starting September 2. For the first time since 2019, teams will compete in a full eight-game schedule as they quest to capture the 57th Vanier Cup in November.
College football is big business south of the border but university athletics in Canada is often treated as little more than an afterthought by both students and the general public. For the savvy consumer, however, it offers a chance to see the football stars of tomorrow at rock-bottom prices.
In honour of U Sports kick-off weekend, 3DownNation is going conference-by-conference to unveil the greatest alumni every school has sent to the professional ranks. This list is limited to the modern era — leather helmets need not apply — and based on their accomplishments at the CFL or NFL level only, not collegiate accolades.
From CFL all-stars to NFL Pro Bowlers, Lou Marsh award winners to Hall of Famers, some truly legendary athletes have graced Canadian campuses. We’ve already shown you the best and brightest from Atlantic University Sport and the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec. It’s now time to make our way through U Sports’ largest conference, Ontario University Athletics.
Carleton Ravens: Mike Philbrick, Defensive Tackle
While 27-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cats safety Tunde Adeleke is hot on his heels, Carleton’s honours currently have to go to Mike Philbrick. Drafted by Ottawa in 1990, he played just one game in the first four years of his career before breaking out with Hamilton in 1994. Over the next eight seasons with the Ticats, Philbrick racked up 310 tackles and 36 sacks, earning East Division all-star honours three times and twice being nominated as the team’s top Canadian.
Honourable mentions: DB Tunde Adeleke, OL Carl Coulter, DT Cameron Legault, REC/DB Peter Stenerson
Guelph Gryphons: Mike O’Shea, Linebacker
Before he was a two-time Grey Cup champion head coach, Mike O’Shea was a game-changing first-round pick out of Guelph. The 1993 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie spent 16 seasons with the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts — along with a brief NFL foray — amassing a whopping 1,320 total tackles, 30 sacks and 22 interceptions. O’Shea was named Most Outstanding Canadian in 1999 and received four all-star selections, making him a Hall of Fame shoo-in in 2017.
Honourable mentions: OL Ryan Bomben, P Rob Maver, K Gerry Organ, OL Blaine Schmidt
McMaster Marauders: Russ Jackson, Quarterback
Could it be anyone else? The greatest Canadian quarterback in CFL history turned down a shot at a Rhodes Scholarship to join the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1958 and never looked back, winning three Most Outstanding Player awards, four Most Oustanding Canadians and the Lou Marsh Trophy as the country’s top athlete. The three-time Grey Cup champion is still the standard by which all others are judged and received the Order of Canada in 1970, three years before he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Honourable mentions: REC Mike Morreale, OL Chris Van Zeyl, RB Jesse Lumsden, LB Ray Mariuz
Ottawa Gee-Gees: Rocky Dipietro, Receiver
It took a guy named Rocky to win the heavy-weight tilt for the Gee-Gees top spot but Dipietro was never an underdog. He retired from his 14-year CFL career with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1991 as the league’s all-time receptions leader, having hauled in 706 passes for 9,762 yards and 45 touchdowns. Along the way, Dipietro was selected an all-star four times and won Most Outstanding Canadian twice, walking into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Honourable mentions: OL Miles Gorrell, REC Brad Sinopoli, LB Dale Potter, FB Neil Lumsden
Queen’s Gaels: Mike Schad, Offensive Line
The fact that Hall of Famer and two-time Most Outstanding Canadian Jim Young doesn’t get this spot is sure to cause outrage but Schad’s impact on the current flood of Canadians in the NFL can’t be discounted. A J.P. Metras Trophy winner and physical freak who reportedly ran a 4.65 forty-yard dash at 309 pounds, he became the first and only Canadian university player to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft when the L.A. Rams selected him 23rd overall in 1986. Buried behind four Pro Bowlers, Schad barely played for his first three seasons before finding new life with the Philadelphia Eagles, starting all 55 games he played over the next five seasons. He eventually returned to Canada, playing one season with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995.
Honourable mentions: REC Jim Young, RB Ron Stewart, REC Jock Climie, OL Matt O’Donnell
Toronto Varsity Blues: Chris Morris, Offensive Line
Before he was one of the country’s best developers of offensive line talent as head coach of the University of Alberta, Chris Morris was a pretty stellar blocker in his own right. Edmonton’s first-round pick in 1992, he was a day one starter up front and held on to the job for 14 years. Morris played 237 career games and won three Grey Cups with the franchise, earning induction into the Wall of Honour in 2008.
Honourable mentions: REC Mike Eben, DB Bruce Coulter, REC Robert Crifo, K Lance Chomyc
Waterloo Warriors: Dick Aldridge, Linebacker
Primarily a running back during his days as a multi-sport star for the Warriors, Aldridge found a home on the defensive side of the ball during his ten-year CFL career — nine of which came with the Toronto Argonauts. In 127 games, he collected 19 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries while also returning 105 punts for 565 yards in an era before blocking was allowed on special teams.
Honourable mentions: OL Chris Best, RB Jarrett Smith, DB Jordan Hoover, RB Michael Bradley
Western Mustangs: Pierre Vercheval, Offensive Line
The Mustangs developed three of the best Canadian receivers in CFL history but none was more impressive than their best offensive lineman. Drafted in the second round of the 1987 draft, Vercheval played 14 seasons with Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, earning six league all-star selections and winning Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2000. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first francophone player in history to receive the honour.
Honourable mentions: REC Dave Sapunjis, REC Whit Tucker, REC Andy Fantuz, DT Vaughn Martin
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks: Paul Bennett, Defensive Back
Arguably the best Canadian safety to ever play the game, Bennett suited up in 174 contests over 11 seasons with the Argos, Blue Bombers and Ticats. From 1977 to 1987, he collected a whopping 51 career interceptions and became the CFL’s all-time leader in punt returns, punt return yardage and interception return yardage. Bennett was a Division all-star four times and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian twice, earning Hall of Fame induction in 2002.
Honourable mentions: OL Rod Connop, DB Larry Uteck, OL David Black, REC Corey Grant
Windsor Lancers: Dan Comiskey, Offensive Line
A sixth-round pick of the Roughriders in 1997, Comiskey beat the odds and put together a 13-year pro career with Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Hamilton and Calgary. His best years came in Green and Gold where he was named a West Division all-star in 2003 and 2006, being voted the team’s best Canadian player during his second all-star campaign.
Honourable mentions: OL Drew Desjarlais, DB Daryl Townsend, OL John Comiskey, REC Arjei Franklin
York Lions: Ricky Foley, Defensive End
The fourth overall pick in the 2006 CFL Draft, Ricky Foley went from backing up Cam Wake in B.C. to becoming one of the league’s most feared pass rushers in his own right. His pro football career lasted 12 years with B.C., Toronto and Saskatchewan, along with stops in Baltimore, Seattle and New York. Foley retired in 2017 with 347 defensive tackles, 63 special teams tackles and 61 sacks to his credit, winning Most Outstanding Canadian with a 12-sack season in 2009. He won three Grey Cups and was named the game’s Most Valuable Canadian in 2012.
Honourable mentions: DB Darryl Sampson, REC Andre Durie, RB Jeff Johnson, OL Jamal Campbell