2024 CFL Draft profiles: Northwestern Oklahoma State DB Dawson Marchant left behind ‘losing culture’ at SFU in search of pro career

Photo courtesy: Cal Sport Media/Alamy Stock Photo

When news broke last April that the Simon Fraser University football team would be disbanded effective immediately, it unified the Canadian football community in shock and anger.

For former SFU defensive back Dawson Marchant, it only validated the decision he had made four years earlier to leave the program for greener pastures.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I was surprised,” the 2024 CFL Draft hopeful told 3DownNation in an interview earlier this offseason. “It is sad because it does help a lot of people around the area continue to play ball.”

That was the case for Marchant, who joined the Red Leafs in 2019. The native of Surrey, B.C. wanted to play against the best and for him that meant facing off against American competition, something that could only be found in Canada by travelling up the road to Burnaby Mountain.

The big-bodied cornerback found an early role on the field with the NCAA Division II program, seeing action in 10 games as a true freshman. He totalled 27 tackles, eight pass breakups, and a fumble recovery in what looked to be the start of a productive collegiate career, but found himself unsatisfied with the level of urgency when the team posted a 1-9 record — just another losing season in a long string of them.

“The culture was losing more than the program was losing because of the culture,” Marchant said frankly. “I’m not a loser. I don’t take losing lightly. I had never really lost up until that point. I know not everybody goes to college to go pro in football, they’re there for school and whatever, but people laughing or not taking it as seriously just didn’t sit well with me.”

“I didn’t think I could become who I wanted to be at that program. It just wasn’t the best fit, I realized.”

After just one season, Marchant had enough and left the school. He planned to send out tape and jump to a U.S.-based program, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans significantly. That led to a detour back to the Canadian Junior Football League ranks with the Langley Rams, with whom he had previously played during the 2018 season after graduating from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School.

“Obviously, it isn’t the highest level of football but at that point, I just wanted to play. Just have fun with it and get that love back by being around a good group of people,” he recalled. “All my teammates were good friends and the culture we created there, I feel like it was more like a player culture. We created the culture and it led to winning success.”

Marchant was named a BCFC all-star that season, collecting 13 total tackles and four interceptions in nine games. The Rams made it to the Canadian Bowl, waxing the London Beefeaters by a score of 37-0 to win the first national championship in team history.

With his love of the game restored and a title ring on his finger, Marchant continued his quest to play football stateside. After fielding offers from several Division II schools, he settled on Northwestern Oklahoma State University, the team that offered him the best chance to get on the field. The Canadian prospect committed to the Rangers without ever making an official visit and was in for a rude awakening when he first rolled into the town of Alva, which boasts a population of under 5,000.

“I remember when my mom and I pulled up there were just two main roads and the school in the middle of it,” he chuckled. “There’s definitely a culture shock but I got used to it after a certain amount of time. Yeah, it’s small, there’s not much to do, but that’s not really my personality anyway.”

With little else to do, Marchant has been happy to focus on his craft. A self-described “football junkie,” he developed good habits while teaching himself techniques via YouTube during the pandemic and has made a point of translating that to the film room. The proverbial one-horse town has also been great for his academic success, leading him to post the best GPA of his life.

In 21 games since transferring south, the versatile defender has racked up 60 tackles, two tackles for loss, five pass breakups, an interception and a blocked kick while making starts at outside corner, nickel and free safety. Much like at SFU, his production hasn’t been matched by victories as the Rangers have gone 2-20 over the past two seasons. Nevertheless, Marchant believes he made the right choice.

“It was just a better fit for me. I had more fun and grew as a person,” he said. “There were challenging times there too, a lot of the same losing, some of the cultural things as well. But being around a better group of guys that I fit with helped me grow and become a better man.”

As a Canadian defensive back playing in the NCAA, Marchant is still a rare breed. He’s had a busy offseason thus far, attending both the FCS Bowl and College Gridiron Showcase all-star games, but remains largely unheralded by scouts due to his small school status.

That’s a familiar refrain in the CFL Draft, where players who cross the border in search of sub-Division I American opportunities often fade off the radar in favour of U Sports prospects that talent evaluators have regularly seen in person. In Marchant’s case, that feels even more true when compared to his former SFU teammate Jerrell Cummings.

The pair both began their collegiate careers as freshman starters with the Red Leafs in 2019, but have trended in different directions. While Cummings has always garnered more accolades on the field, he also lacks Marchant’s prototypical six-foot-one, 200-pound frame with less special teams value and positional versatility.

Nevertheless, Cummings will be at the CFL Combine in Winnipeg later this month after transferring to UBC for a Canada West all-star season in 2023. Marchant will need to earn his own ticket to the event by way of the Invitational Combine in Waterloo on Friday, March 8.

“I understand it to a certain extent because if you’re playing U Sports, the scouts can just drive down the road and see them. I kind of knew that would come with the decision I made when I went down there,” Marchant acknowledged.

Despite the added hurdle in front of him, he still believes his circuitous path was the correct one to get him to the pros. His time at Northwestern Oklahoma State was critical for his development as a player and a man, with obvious growth happening in an off-man-heavy, route-matching system Marchant believes will give him a leg up at the next level.

With that experience under his belt and pro measurables, he’s willing to stack himself up against any defensive back in this class.

“I know not a lot of DBs are blessed to wake up and be six-foot-one, 200, run like me, jump like me. The physicality comes with the size,” Marchant grinned.

“As far as recognition and not getting as much glitz and glamour, I know what I can do. I know what type of player I am and when the time comes at the Combine, I know it will come to light.”

The 2024 CFL Draft is scheduled for April 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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.