Abbott’s 2022 NCAA All-Canadians: Defence

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Nothing says New Year’s like college football and some of the biggest student stars gracing your television screen this week hail from north of the border.

Over the course of 2022, more than 200 Canadians competed across all levels of NCAA football, many in key roles. For the fourth straight season, I’ve tracked each of those players all year long to assemble my annual All-Canadian selections, highlighting the best and brightest that our country has to offer.

As always, the team has been selected based on the quality of a player’s performance throughout the year and is not to be treated as an evaluation of their pro prospects or objective talent. While the strength of competition is taken into consideration, excellent production at a lower level of competition will be privileged over below-average play for a larger program.

For the sake of readability, the 2022 All-Canadian team has been presented in two parts. Yesterday, we honoured the great, white north’s most dynamic offensive stars. Today, it is time for the defence to take their moment in the spotlight.

*Note: In order to remain consistent, player eligibility has been listed as normal, without regard to the 2020 COVID exemption. As a result, many seniors or redshirt seniors may have the option to return to school for an additional season.

Edge Defender

Photo courtesy: Miami Hurricanes

First team: Akheem Mesidor, Junior, University of Miami (Ottawa, Ont.)

Following his surprising and controversial transfer from West Virginia, all eyes were on Mesidor to see how he would perform at the U. He responded by instantly becoming Miami’s top pass rusher, making good use of the reps on the edge that he was denied in 2021 with the Mountaineers.

The six-foot-three, 280-pound disruptor suited up in 11 games for the Hurricanes and was credited with 38 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He racked up 28 total pressures on his way to being named honourable mention All-ACC and received an exceptional 87.1 season grade from analytics firm Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/John Amis

Tavius Robinson, Super Senior, University of Mississippi (Guelph, Ont.)

Since making the jump from the University of Guelph three years ago, Tavius Robinson has been a meaningful contributor for the Rebels. In 2022, he took his game to another level and established himself as a legitimate NFL prospect.

The six-foot-six, 265-pound pass rusher racked up 44 tackles in 13 games for Ole Miss, adding eight tackles for loss, seven sacks and five forced fumbles — including two during Wednesday’s Texas Bowl. He posted 40 pressures on the season, more than double his previous career high, on his way to receiving an invite to the prestigious Senior Bowl all-star game.

Second team: Francis Bemiy Jr., Super Senior, Southern Utah University [FCS] (Montreal, Que.) | Carter Maurice, Sophomore, University of Minnesota Morris [D3] (Boissevain, Man.)

Third team: Wesley Bailey, Redshirt Sophomore, Rutgers University (Ottawa, Ont.) | Tristan Marois, Sophomore, Robert Morris University [FCS] (Saint-Bruno, Que.)

Defensive Interior

Photo courtesy: Incarnate Word Athletics

First team: Olivier Charles-Pierre, Super Senior, University of the Incarnate Word [FCS] (Laval, Que.)

CFL teams had no interest in the (conservatively) 375-pound run-stuffing nose tackle Olivier Charles-Pierre when he went through the draft process, but there may need to be a re-evaluation. After transferring from Houston to take advantage of his final year of eligibility, the six-foot-one bowling ball was responsible for 16 pressures while playing for one of the nation’s top FCS teams — doubling his prior three-year career total of eight.

Showing he could still move despite his size, Charles-Pierre made 37 tackles through 13 games, including 7.5 for loss and one sack. That was good enough to earn an 87.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, the second-highest of any Canadian behind only quarterback Kurtis Rourke.

Photo courtesy: Seth Poplaski/Maine Athletics

Justin Sambu, Redshirt Senior, University of Maine [FCS] (Calgary, Alta.)

At six-foot-four and 265 pounds, Sambu is versatile enough to rush from any alignment, but he did most of his work for the Black Bears inside this year. It translated into the best season of his career, as he generated 21 pressures in 2022.

Through 11 games, Sambu amassed 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a team-leading 5.5 sacks. The former Calgary Colt has one year of eligibility remaining, should he choose to use it.

Second team: Paris Shand, Redshirt Sophomore, University of Arizona (Toronto, Ont.) | Kail Dava, Senior, Tennessee Tech University [FCS] (Mississauga, Ont.)

Third team: Nate Martey, Sophomore, Princeton University [FCS] (Orleans, Ont.) | Quintin Seguin, Super Senior, Charleston Southern University [FCS] (Windsor, Ont.)


Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Emilee Chinn

First team: Melique Straker, Junior, Arkansas State University (Brampton, Ont.)

The third member of our All-Canadian first team to have transferred from a U Sports program, Straker began his career at Carleton and has since become the model of a modern linebacker for the Red Wolves.

Capable of filling the box or covering the slot, the five-foot-10, 201-pound backer amassed 81 tackles in 11 games during his first season as a full-time starter. He also added eight tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble to make himself a name to watch in the Sunbelt.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Sam Hodde

Geoffrey Cantin-Arku, Senior, University of Memphis (Levis, Que.)

After transferring from Syracuse last year, Cantin-Arku slid seamlessly into the middle of the Tigers’ defence.  The six-foot-three, 240-pound defender played in all 13 games, making 76 total tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Memphis posted their largest bowl victory in school history on Tuesday in the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl, thanks in part to a 10-tackle outing from their Canadian linebacker. Fans of the program can rest easy knowing that Cantin-Arku has already declared his intention to return in 2023.

Second team: Dayton Ingenhaag, Sophomore, Simon Fraser University [D2] (Vernon, B.C.) | Ryan Barthelson, Junior, Simon Fraser University [D2] (Langley, B.C.)

Third team: Darius McKenzie, Redshirt Sophomore, University of Maine [FCS] (Ottawa, Ont.) | Woodly Appolon, Redshirt Senior, Tuskegee University [D2] (Montreal, Que.)


Photo courtesy: Austin Bigoney/UConn Athletics

First team: Malcolm Bell, Redshirt Freshman, University of Connecticut (Montreal, Que.)

After reaching historic heights over the last few years, the Canadian cornerback class was considerably thinned out in 2022. Taking up the mantle from the likes of NFL Draft pick Deane Leonard was young Malcolm Bell, who started 12 games for the Huskies.

The six-foot-two, 185-pound cover man made 39 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, knocking down six passes. Bell locked down the right sideline for UConn, allowing less than half of all passes thrown his way to be completed and giving up just 263 yards on the year.

Photo courtesy: Garrett James/SFU Athletics

Jerrell Cummings, Junior, Simon Fraser University [D2] (Vancouver, B.C.)

The move into the Texas-based Lone Star Conference was not kind to Canada’s only NCAA team, but starting corner Jerrell Cummings continues to shine as the school’s best pro prospect.

In 10 games this season, including their Shrum Bowl loss to UBC, the five-foot-10, 185-pound corner made 44 tackles and six tackles for loss. He also picked off a team-leading three passes and broke up seven more.

Second team: Dawson Marchant, Junior, Northwestern Oklahoma State University [D2] (Vancouver, B.C.) | Ethan Yip, Sophomore, College of William & Mary [FCS] (Surrey, B.C.)

Third team: Cyrus McGarrell, Redshirt Sophomore, University of Northern Illinois (Windsor, Ont.) | King Ambers, Redshirt Junior, Texas A&M University-Commerce [FCS] (Pickering, Ont.)


Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

First team: Sydney Brown, Super Senior, University of Illinois (London, Ont.)

The identical twin brother of Jon Cornish Trophy winner Chase Brown and the third member of the Fighting Illini to be honoured on our first team, Sydney’s inclusion has nothing to do with family ties. His outstanding final collegiate season was almost as good as his sibling’s, earning All-American honours from several outlets including USA Today.

Playing mostly in the box as a linebacker-strong safety hybrid, Brown racked up 59 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The first-team All-Big Ten selection posted a career-high six interceptions and 13 pass breakups, while also scoring two defensive touchdowns. He is now bound for the NFL Draft after opting out of the ReliaQuest Bowl and will showcase his talents for scouts at the Senior Bowl in February.

Photo courtesy: Brian Foley/Colgate Athletics

Arthur Hamlin, Redshirt Junior, Colgate University [FCS] (Ottawa, Ont.)

The second safety on our All-Canadian roster was among the most difficult choices that had to be made, but Hamlin earned his place the hard way. The six-foot, 195-pound defender beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year in order to be able to return to the football field in 2022, playing seven games for the Raiders across a variety of defensive back positions.

Hamlin made 21 tackles over the course of the season and earned a 70.0 grade from Pro Football Focus. His perseverance should be an inspiration to football fans everywhere.

Second team: Shakespeare Louis, Sophomore, Robert Morris University [FCS] (Ottawa, Ont.) | Evan Currie, Redshirt Junior, Simon Fraser University [D2] (North Vancouver, B.C.)

Third team: Ethan Ball, Redshirt Sophomore, University of North Dakota [FCS] (Regina, Sask.) | Gideone Kremler, Redshirt Sophomore, Simon Fraser University [D2] (Victoria, B.C.)

Flex Defender

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Barry Reeger

First team: Jonathan Sutherland, Super Senior, Penn State University (Ottawa, Ont.)

Sutherland will take his final bow as a college player during Monday’s Rose Bowl and his tenure at Penn State is something all young players should aspire to. The four-time team captain was leadership personified and his production was nothing to be scoffed at either.

Playing mostly over the slot or in the box, Sutherland notched 35 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 12 games this season. As always, the five-foot-11, 214-pound defender was also one of the school’s top special teamers, adding four tackles in the game’s third phase.

Second team: Johari Hastings, Sophomore, Simon Fraser University [D2] (Toronto, Ont.)

Third team: Callum Hyland, Sophomore, Southern Virginia University [D3] (Lethbridge, Alta.)

Special Teamer

Photo courtesy: North Texas Athletics

First team: Jaylen Smith, Sophomore, University of North Texas (Hamilton, Ont.)

With dynamic special teamers like Jonathan Sutherland and Nolan Ulm already on the first team in positional roles, our kick coverage spot will go to Mean Green linebacker Jaylen Smith for a second straight season.

The six-foot, 210-pound teams demon made five tackles on specials this year, while also seeing an increased role on defence. He finished the season with 15 total tackles and two tackles for loss in 14 games.

Second team: Luke Foster, Sophomore, Yale University [FCS] (Fort McMurray, Alta.)

Third team: Nicholas Ciriello, Freshman, Geneva College [D3] (Port Colborne, Ont.)

Honourable mentions: ED Carter Hooper, R-FR, Connecticut (Toronto, Ont.) | ED Nathan Carabatsakis, SO, Robert Morris [FCS] (Winnipeg, Man.) | ED Aaron Armitage, SO, Stanford (Ajax, Ont.) | DI Rene Konga, R-SO, Rutgers (Ottawa, Ont.) | Aamarii Notice, R-FR, Idaho [FCS] (Toronto, Ont.) | S Trae Tomlinson, FR, Richmond [FCS] (Winnipeg, Man.) | LS Adam Guillemette, SR, Holy Cross [FCS] (Cambridge, Ont.) | ST Malick Meiga, R-SO, Penn State (Saint Jerome, Que.)

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.