2023 CFL Draft profiles: Saskatchewan’s walk-on receiver Caleb Morin more than one-year wonder

Photo courtesy: Huskie Athletics/GetMyPhoto.ca

Like most kids growing up in Saskatchewan, Caleb Morin loved the Roughriders. He ate Fantuz Flakes for breakfast and admired Weston Dressler. He dreamed of someday wearing the green and white at Mosaic Stadium.

The Saskatoon native is now just days away from making a pro football career his reality, with a good shot at being selected in the 2023 CFL Draft on May 2. But despite his fandom, he does have one confession to make.

“It’s funny, I’ve never been to a CFL game,” Morin admitted in an interview with 3DownNation. “It’s always been at home watching TV.”

In some ways, the fact that the receiver’s first CFL game will also be his first as a player is a perfect metaphor for his career. Almost nothing at all, followed by everything all at once.

At every stage of his football life, that has been Caleb Morin’s story. He didn’t start playing the sport until his Grade 11 year and a switch to quarterback out of necessity as a high school senior nearly derailed his hopes of playing in college. For months, he badgered his coach daily for updates, hoping to get a single offer. Finally, he gave up and resigned himself to his fate.

“One day I went up to him and I said, ‘I think I’m hanging the cleats up, I don’t want to play junior football,'” the 23-year-old recalled. “He said, ‘I find that funny because I just got an email from the Huskies and they asked you to come to spring camp.'”

Morin impressed at his walk-on tryout and signed with the University of Saskatchewan just two weeks after that conversation with his coach. He has called Griffiths Stadium home since 2017, but it wasn’t an instant success story.

He redshirted his first season, dressing for just a single game, and followed that up with only three receptions for 32 yards the next year. There was some improvement in 2019 as he chipped in with 10 catches for 132 yards but still struggled to carve out a role for himself.

“Only having two years under my belt before going to the Huskies was tough for me,” Morin acknowledged. “Even though I wasn’t on the field, I can’t say I didn’t have the opportunity. I had plenty of opportunities to get on the field, I just maybe didn’t understand the game enough early in my career.”

Once he gained that understanding, other factors kept him sidelined. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a cancelled 2020 season and Morin tore his ACL in the meantime, costing him a year of training. He finally felt poised for a breakout when play resumed in 2021, only to break his leg two weeks before the season opener and miss another full campaign.

Entering his draft year, the veteran pass catcher wasn’t even a blip on the CFL’s radar. After all, he had just 13 career catches. Then, rather suddenly, it all came together.

Head coach Scott Flory found a role for the six-foot-two, 188-pounder in the Huskies’ prolific passing offence. Finally healthy, he became the sure-handed slot that Mason Nyhus could find in the intermediate areas of the field and rely upon to make catches in contact. By Week 3 of the 2022 season, he had already matched his previous career totals.

In 12 games in 2022, Morin caught 48 passes for 736 yards and one touchdown — good enough for second on the team in receptions and third in yardage. After his long road to a starting role, the experience was particularly emotionally fulfilling.

“It was extremely rewarding. Nothing led up to this, it’s amazing,” he said, smiling ear to ear. “It’s Flory to thank, it’s my teammates to thank. I made so many brothers along the way and that’s the reason why I’m still playing football, it’s those relationships. It’s the guys that you look forward to coming and seeing every day.”

His finest moment came on the biggest stage of the season, hauling in a team-leading seven catches for 97 yards in the Huskies’ second straight Vanier Cup appearance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, coming in a 30-24 loss to the Laval Rouge et Or.

“That’s what keeps you up at night and those are the ones that you want to take back for the rest of your life but it’s one game,” Morin said. “I trust my teammates, I trust myself and we’re gonna be back there one day and we’re gonna get that ring on our finger.”

Photo courtesy: Christian Bender/CFL.ca

Despite his breakout season and exceptional outing in the title game, the CFL had reservations regarding Morin. He initially did not receive an invite to the National Combine in Edmonton despite a comparable statistical output to those in attendance. Instead, he had to earn his way to the showcase through the Invitational Combine in Waterloo.

Most players would have been angered by that sort of omission. The Huskies’ humble every-man had a different mindset.

“I honestly kind of saw it in a different way. I was just really pumped up to get that look in the first place,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Invitational or it’s the National, they’re getting a look at me.”

Morin ultimately got the chance to perform at both events, earning his ticket to the Alberta capital with a strong one-on-one session the week before. He continued to shine against the top prospects, showing off his intelligent route-running and the suddenness to separate despite a lack of elite speed.

That was his hallmark during his outstanding senior campaign, allowing him to consistently eat over the top against better athletes. Once the ball was in his hands, he earned respect as a battler who fights for every extra yard.

Morin intends to bring that same effort level to whatever team drafts him. He’s well aware that his late emergence and average athleticism don’t fit the prototype of a top CFL prospect, but those types of elite traits aren’t why he was able to win collegiately.

“I pride myself on lining up against the guy across me and knowing I’m gonna outwork him,” he stressed. “That’s how I live my day-to-day life. I’m not the biggest, I’m not the fastest, I’m not the strongest, but I’m just gonna buckle up and work and that’s what’s gonna get me those yards.”

It’s a method that has taken him from an unheralded recruit to impact performer and from the bottom of the roster to the top of the depth chart. He only needs a late-round opportunity to prove he can do it again.

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.