2024 CFL Draft profiles: RB Michael Chris-Ike hoping to earn starting job despite being college backup

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The top-ranked running back in this year’s CFL draft is a bit of an enigma.

Michael Chris-Ike has great size, excellent speed, elite quickness, solid strength, blocks in pass protection, and contributes on special teams. On paper, he’s the perfect CFL running back prospect.

There’s only one catch: he wasn’t a starter in college.

“I’d say opportunity and just personnel that they want to play, but it is what it is,” Chris-Ike told 3DownNation regarding his role at Delaware State University. “It’s all about opportunity at the end of the day. I redshirted my first year but I played significant minutes when I actually did play and that’s what I can do when I actually get the opportunity. It’s all opportunity, basically.”

The NCAA transfer portal has ushered in the most transient era in the history of collegiate athletics, allowing players to move from program to program with ease. Switching colleges was once considered a faux pas but is now par for the course as many top prospects suit up for three or four different teams before entering the professional ranks.

Chris-Ike never considered leaving Delaware State despite being stuck in a depth role with the Hornets, choosing instead to remain loyal to the school where he spent five years. He finished his tenure with 114 carries for 486 yards and three touchdowns, one catch for 10 yards, and seven kickoff returns for 57 yards.

“I like finding my way through. I like sticking it out and trying to accomplish things where I’m at,” he said. “Hindsight is everything but in the moment, I was just trying to work out and beat some guys and play, but things happen and you move on.”

Chris-Ike was a college teammate of current CFL running back Thomas Bertrand-Hudon and the two remain close. The native of Mont Saint-Hilaire, Que. was a fourth-round pick of the Saskatchewan Roughriders this past season and had a productive rookie season, rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns, catching two passes for 12 yards, returning 11 kickoffs for 268 yards, and making 10 tackles on special teams.

“Thomas, that’s my guy, that’s my old roommate,” said Chris-Ike. “I talk to him all the time. We talk about things, the game, and how we could translate our game to the pro level and all that. That’s my boy. Shoutout to him.”

Bertrand-Hudon was also never the undisputed feature back at Delaware State as his best season came as a freshman in 2019 when he rushed for 508 yards and five touchdowns. He managed only another 508 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns over the next three years, matching his production from his first collegiate season.

The Hornets have taken a committee approach in the backfield for the past several years with players like Chris-Ike, Bertrand-Hudon, Sy’veon Wilkerson, Marquis Gillis, Marqui Adams, Wade Inge, and Jared Lewis contributing along the ground.

Chris-Ike would love the opportunity to start at the CFL level and certainly has the athleticism to do so, running a 4.51-second forty-yard dash, 6.71-second three-cone drill, and 4.19-second shuttle at the CFL Combine in Winnipeg at six-foot-one and 225 pounds. Regardless of whether or not he ever wins a starting job, the Hamilton native is expected to be a major contributor on special teams as he made nine tackles this past season.

“Optimally, I definitely see myself being starting running back and I can also make a huge impact on special teams, too,” he said. “I love special teams, it’s a part of the game that I take a lot of pride in. This past season, I spent a lot of time with teams and that’s where I make my bread and butter, honestly, I really turn up. It’s not just running back reps for me, it’s also special teams and I can block, too.”

The graduate of St. Thomas More Secondary will almost surely be the first running back taken in this year’s CFL draft, likely going in the second round. Whether or not he achieves his goal of becoming a starter at the professional level remains to be seen.

The 2024 CFL Draft is set for Tuesday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.