Combines can be a clinical affair. Scouts are an academic audience who rarely tips their hand about what they are seeing; success is never met with cheering or applause. Still, prospects show up hoping to make the play that will let slip an inadvertent gasp or murmur of approval.
Most importantly, none of them want to be the guy to make a field filled with hundreds of players and evaluators go quiet.
For much of the 2023 CFL Combine, Charlie Ringland was the guy standing out. His impressive testing numbers, drool-worthy length and effortless 40-inch vertical made everyone in attendance take notice. His play during the early competitive sessions stood out and he was well on his way to being one of the event’s true risers.
Then, with one unfortunate plant on the artificial turf, it was all over. The silence was deafening as he was carried off the field.
“When I first went down, I started thinking the worst right away. It was pretty painful for a bit and I knew that something wasn’t right,” Ringland told 3DownNation after being diagnosed with a torn ACL.
“I was pretty frustrated that after all that training, I didn’t get the chance to finish the weekend. It’s unfortunate that I’m gonna miss a full season of football this year. That’s something I have never had to experience with the Huskies.”
While other top prospects in the 2023 CFL Draft will spend the day after their selection celebrating with family, discussing training camp logistics, and wrapping their heads around achieving a dream, Ringland will be prepping for surgery. He’s booked in to repair the ligament on May 3, with the hopes of accelerating his rehab as much as possible.
“My injury definitely puts a damper on draft day,” he acknowledged. “I am still excited for it, don’t get me wrong. It just changes the expectations.”
Despite the added adversity, the 22-year-old will almost certainly hear his name called the night before he goes under the knife. For a talent like his, teams will be willing to wait a year, though he will be taken later than initially expected.
The selection would make the Winnipeg native the latest in a long line of Oak Park High School graduates to advance to the CFL. That list includes stars like Andrew Harris, Nic Demski, and Brady Oliveira, all of whom influence Ringland’s early aspirations in the game.
“They’ve had a pretty big impact, honestly,” he noted. “I went to high school with Brady for one year, he was a senior when I was in my first year, and we worked out at the same gym back in Winnipeg. Nic Demski was one of my coaches back in the day for Recruit Ready offseason training. It’s nice to get to know them and know they came from the same place you did.”
A dual-threat high school quarterback and safety with the Raiders, Ringland opted for a different collegiate path than all of those players. He became part of a small contingent of Manitobans committing to the University of Saskatchewan, crossing the provincial border to suit up for his local school’s biggest rival.
His motivation was simple: the Huskies offered him the best opportunity to see the field early. They delivered on that promise by starting him at field-side cornerback for 11 games as a freshman in 2018. Despite being new to the position, he excelled and collected 21 tackles, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Like most young players, the adjustment to the speed of the college game provided plenty of ups and downs.
“There’s the good ‘Welcome to U Sports” moment and then the ‘Oh crap, this isn’t high school anymore’ moment,” Ringland recalled with a chuckle. “My first game, they ran a bubble screen to my side and I shot under to make the tackle in our home opener. And then my second game was back in Winnipeg, I was playing corner and I gave up two touchdowns that game on deep balls.”
The Huskies’ Rookie of the Year never relinquished his starting role, though he did eventually move to halfback. In 38 career games, he has collected 97 total tackles, 15 pass breakups, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles, all while playing a critical spot on a defence that has advanced to the past two Vanier Cups. With incredible range, Ringland was often the player to cover for other people’s mistakes and routinely made plays on the opposite side of the field.
His best season came in 2022, when he amassed 27 tackles, eight pass deflections and a forced fumble. In the Hardy Cup semi-final against his hometown Manitoba Bisons, he stole the show with a hat trick of interceptions.
What his consistent production hides is the level of growth Ringland believes he has undergone over the past five years, particularly when it comes to the cognitive side of the game.
“My first year I was kind of just looking at the board, looking at my position, and thinking I knew what to do. Now I know where we are on the field, I know our systems and I know the opposing receivers,” he remarked.
Viewed as an intriguing pro safety prospect at six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Ringland might have snuck into the first few rounds of the draft if not for his injury. Now he will slip into the middle rounds, where teams usually take a stab at so-called futures picks that won’t be available right away.
“My message to teams would be that no matter where I get taken, I know I can be a difference maker in this league when I get my chance to play,” he stressed. “Unfortunately it won’t be this summer but I know I’ll be ready to roll in the new year.”
When he does see the field, it will be the culmination of a childhood dream that was established growing up in Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers currently have three Oak Park grads on their roster and Ringland admits it would be awfully fun to join them.
“My mom and I used to go to all the Bombers games at old Canada Inns when I was a kid, watching Milt Stegall, Charles Roberts, all those guys,” he smiled, trying to remain diplomatic about where he would like to play.
“It would definitely be a special experience to go back home and be another Oak Park guy to play for the Bombers. That would be cool but I’m not going to complain about anywhere at this point.”