2024 CFL draft profiles: OL Kyle Hergel embracing underdog mentality as he pursues NFL

Photo: Boston College Football/Joe Sullivan

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has overcome more obstacles en route to the professional ranks than offensive lineman Kyle Hergel.

The native of Mississauga, Ont. didn’t garner an NCAA Division I scholarship coming out of Clarkson Football North, arguably the top high school football program in the country. He originally committed to the New Mexico Military Institute at the junior college level, though that changed when a last-minute offer came in from the University of North Dakota.

There was a catch, however, as it wasn’t a full scholarship, covering only 65 percent of tuition. With a single mother and a brother with developmental disabilities, Hergel knew it would be a financial challenge to manage on less than a full scholarship but still committed to the Fighting Hawks, achieving his dream of playing NCAA Division I football.

“I came a day before camp and I didn’t even have a locker — I had a hook on the side of someone else’s locker with a metal chair. I remember it vividly. I still have a picture of the hook and the chair just to remind myself. I’ve got a picture of my scholarship, too,” Hergel recently told 3DownNation via telephone.

“The opportunity North Dakota gave me, I’m very thankful for it, but I knew I had to change and do something different with my schooling trajectory if I wanted to make it to the next level.”

Hergel redshirted his first year on campus in 2018 but it didn’t take long for him to make an impression the following season. He won the starting job at right guard in 2019 and was named the FCS Independent’s Newcomer of the Year, making it clear that he would soon have the opportunity to transfer to a larger program.

Multiple opportunities arose in 2021 after Hergel entered the portal and eventually transferred to Texas State University. He was a two-year starter at guard and earned All-Sun Belt Conference honours in both years with the Bobcats. Head coach Jake Spavital, who is now the offensive coordinator at Baylor, called Hergel a “program-changer,” a testament to how he helped change the team’s culture.

“I’ve been lucky to have great coaches and great strength paths and great nutrition programs and great academic programs. Those are the people that deserve to shine because those are the people that make my life and my job a whole lot easier on Saturdays,” said Hergel. “They deserve everything — those are the people that put the game plan together, they’re the ones that execute practice.”

Hergel transferred for his final year of collegiate eligibility in 2023, committing to Boston College. After starting out at the FCS level and working his way up through the Group of Five, the physical blocker had finally made his way to the Power Five ranks, reaching the pinnacle of collegiate football.

One of the people at Boston College who helped get Hergel a scholarship was Chris Snee, a former NFL offensive lineman who now serves as an analyst for the Eagles. The 42-year-old was a second-round pick to the New York Giants in 2004 and played 10 seasons at guard, winning two Super Bowls and earning four Pro Bowl selections.

“He said that I reminded him of himself at a younger age, so he stood on the table for me,” said Hergel. “It worked out really well for all parties involved, so I was very happy I got to finish my career at B.C. It was a great experience.”

The move paid off for the Eagles as they improved from 3-9 in 2022 to 7-6 in 2023, winning the Fenway Bowl over Southern Methodist University. The offensive line was a big part of the team’s improvement as the unit allowed only 18 sacks this past season after giving a conference-worst 46 the year before Hergel arrived.

An added bonus for Hergel was that his mother, Tracey, who still lives in the Mississauga area, was able to attend all of his games at Boston College. He also had an easier time getting home to visit his brother, Jake, along with friends he’s made through his mother’s profession. Tracey works with people with developmental disabilities and Hergel has developed long-standing relationships with many of them as they’ve closely followed his collegiate career across the United States.

Hergel finished his collegiate career as a rare five-year starter, suiting up at guard for 55 consecutive games. He also tested well at his recent pro day, leaping 33 inches in the vertical jump, running a 5.39-second forty-yard dash, and recording 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

The next obstacle for Hergel to overcome is his lack of height. At a smidge under six-foot-three, he lacks the prototypical size NFL teams covet in big men up front.

“Ultimately, it’s different being six-four or six-five compared to being six-two or six-three, but a lot of it comes down to if you can play ball. If I’m six-two or six-three being able to do anything a guy that’s six-four or six-five can do but I’m a better athlete and I do better preparation, it comes down to the fit,” said Hergel. “My height might be a minus but I might have a lot of pluses somewhere else.”

The 24-year-old has already met the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, and Green Bay Packers about his future and also attended New England’s recent local pro day. He’s clearly garnering legitimate NFL interest, whether it’s as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.

Regardless, he’s ready for whatever’s next.

“It might not be a conventional route that I’ve taken in my career and my path getting here, but ultimately I’m going to be fine at the next level because in the NFL, the guys that thrive are the guys that have to find ways to do it and I’ve always found a way to overachieve in everything I’ve done. There’s never been a year where I wasn’t an all-conference player at any school at any level I was at,” said Hergel.

“I’m very comfortable right now, I’ve been in this spot a lot of times being overlooked. I have great people in my corner and I’m very lucky to have a great mom and very lucky to have great people around me that steer me the right way and remind me that I’ve been here before. I’ve been here and I’ve never flinched before, so why am I going to flinch now? I’m always gonna be the same guy. I’m gonna be a great teammate, I’m gonna be prepared, I’m gonna be tough, I’m gonna be versatile, and I’m gonna be very intelligent and very smart, so that’s what a team’s going to be getting in me.”

One thing that should help Hergel’s chances of sticking in the NFL is a position change to centre, which is where he played at the recent Shrine Bowl. Fittingly, the perennial underdog wasn’t originally invited to attend the annual talent showcase before being welcomed as a last-minute addition.

“I love centre. I like having control of the huddle, I like having control of the call. It’s something that I relish. I think that at the next level for me to have success, I have to play centre, especially in the NFL where I am undersized. I think that I’ll have great success at that spot — even at guard, too, I’m not counting that out — but from the feedback I’ve been getting, it’s a lot of centre and that’s fine.”

Hergel has a litany of connections to the CFL as he was a teammate of superstar running back Brady Oliveira and all-star defensive back Evan Holm at North Dakota, he played with offensive lineman Liam Dobson and defensive backs Kordell Rodgers and Eric Sutton at Texas State, and was a high school teammate of linebacker Tyrell Richards, who was selected with the first overall pick in the CFL draft in 2022, and defensive linemen Deionte Knight and Mason Bennett.

If all else fails, it’s clear he would embrace the opportunity to play in the three-down league, where he projects as a perennial all-star.

“If the NFL doesn’t work out, I would love to be in the CFL. Anytime you’re able to play a sport at the highest level, it’s an honour and a privilege. I would expect to do the same thing I’ve done in my whole career and excel and hopefully be remembered as one of the best CFL linemen,” said Hergel.

“I’m not declining anybody’s call. I’m very humbled and I’m very thankful to play the game at a professional level. I’m very eager and I’ve been around the CFL my whole life.”

In the meantime, however, Hergel is focused on the NFL, where he’s an underdog. What else is new?

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.