2023 CFL Draft hopefuls Reece Martin and Aidan John are out to prove that the talent in Atlantic University Sport (AUS) can compete with the other U Sports conferences across the country.
“I love being an underdog, just going around with that extra chip on my shoulder,” Martin recently told 3DownNation. “I’m just out here to prove that the AUS has dogs out there and I’m sure we’ll have lots more in the future.”
It can be easy to overlook the AUS given how the conference has become less competitive on the national stage in recent years.
Since CIS rebranded to U Sports in 2017, the AUS has participated in five national semifinal games, losing them by a combined score of 279-28. The conference hasn’t had a team in the Vanier Cup since 2007 and hasn’t won a national title since Saint Mary’s did so in 2002.
Martin is looking to be a top pick in this year’s draft as part of a loaded defensive line class. He made 67.5 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, six knockdowns, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one interception over 28 games at Mount Allison where he was named a three-time AUS all-star.
The six-foot-three, 278-pound defensive tackle’s best year came in 2021 when he was named a first-team All-Canadian, Mount Allison’s Male Athlete of the Year, and was nominated for the J. P. Metras Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best down lineman in U Sports. Despite his success, he believes he has plenty of room to grow at the next level.
“I definitely haven’t reached my full potential but that’s what it is, you’ve just gotta get better every day, every practice, every game, every year,” he said. “I know I’m not at my full potential yet, I’m still just scraping the surface.”
John earned a ticket to the CFL Combine by virtue of a strong performance at the Invitational Combine in Waterloo. He was one of the top testers at the event, leaping 35 inches in the vertical jump at six-foot-four and 248 pounds.
The Saint Mary’s product has only dressed for 15 career U Sports games but was extremely productive, recording 75.5 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two knockdowns, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He was one of four Huskies at the CFL Combine alongside tight end Sebastian Howard, linebacker Markcus Jean-Loescher, and defensive back Jassin States-McClean, with whom John has been friends since childhood.
“We’ve put in a lot of work over the last couple of years and we’re gonna show the country that we’re on the same level,” said John. “It’s just football. It’s the same everywhere you go, you’ve just gotta find the right people. Football is football. Men are men.”
Martin was born to Canadian parents in Phoenix, Ariz. but moved north of the border when he was only six months old. He has lived primarily in Moncton, N.B. ever since, passing up the opportunity to play elsewhere at the U Sports level.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was a homebody and being raised by single mother and having two younger siblings, I really feel like it was good for me to stay close to the family,” he said. “I also liked the idea of showing that the AUS and out east in general has football talent. I liked the idea of staying home and representing my home well in the sport that I do.”
Despite the conference’s recent challenges, the AUS has continued to produce top-ranked prospects for the CFL draft.
Offensive lineman Gregor MacKellar was a first-round pick out of St. FX in 2022 and he started a number of games at guard for the Toronto Argonauts this past season, helping them win the Grey Cup. Bailey Feltmate was a second-round pick out of Acadia in 2020 and has since made 23 tackles at linebacker for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Other recent first-round picks out of the AUS include Acadia receiver Brian Jones in 2016, St. FX receiver Devon Bailey in 2014, and St. FX linebacker Henoc Muamba in 2011.
Martin interviewed with all nine teams at the CFL Combine, while John interviewed with all but Edmonton. It appears both will have their names called within the early rounds of the draft, which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 2.
“I’m honoured to be one of the names that scouts and people are looking at,” said Martin. “It gives you a little more of a chip on your shoulder. It makes you want to go a little harder. It makes you want to give a little more when you’re in the interviews, a little more when you’re in the meetings. I love it, though. I’ve got that underdog mentality and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”