Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - The 2017 Canadian Football League Draft is fast approaching, but Geoff Gray isn't about to buckle under the weight of expectation.
After all, the six-foot-six, 318-pound All-Canadian offensive lineman from the University of Manitoba has proven quite capable of handling heavy objects.
At No. 3 on the CFL's Scouting Bureau final prospect list released earlier this month, Gray is the highest ranked U SPORTS student-athlete heading into the May 7 draft. Gray's also attracting his share of attention from the NFL, which holds its draft April 27-29.
Suddenly, the sky's the limit for the 22-year-old Winnipeg native, who's seen his draft stock soar after a standout performance in January at the East-West Shrine Game. He opted to forgo the recent CFL Draft Combine in favour of hosting his own pro day for interested teams.
"The way I've been training all winter for my pro day is the same I would have been doing for the Combine," Gray says. "My expectations have definitely shifted since the Shrine Game, but what I've been doing hasn't really changed any."
Gray was one of just two players in all of U SPORTS and the only Canada West student-athlete invited to Florida to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, an annual college football all-star bowl that attracts birddogs by the dozens. Gray first turned heads during the lead-up of practices and testing, and then made an even bigger impression during the actual game when he threw a block that helped spring his running back for the contest's only touchdown.
"Going into this season, the Shrine Game wasn't something I expected to be doing," says Gray. "It's really just after the Shrine Game and all the feedback I got from the NFL scouts and then deciding to host my pro day that has shifted my expectations a little higher now."
At the end of March, CFL and NFL representatives gathered inside the Subway South Indoor Soccer Complex on the University of Manitoba campus for Gray's pro day. He treated them to a show, running 4.78 seconds in the shuttle, 5.28 seconds in the 40-metre dash, and 7.83 seconds in the cone drill. He also recorded a 9'6" broad jump that would have set a CFL Combine record for an offensive linemen, and did 24 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
"It's different when it's just yourself doing it compared to the Combine when you're in your positional groups and there are a number of different people doing it," Gray says. "As opposed to being spread out over the course of a couple days, it's just you doing (it in a) couple hours, so it's pretty intense, but you get the same events and demonstrate the same stuff as if you were at the Combine."
TEST OF STRENGTH
Gray's might should come as no surprise, considering he just happens to also be a competitive weightlifter with a personal best lift of 325kg in the snatch and clean and jerk. He placed fourth in the 105+ KG class at the 2015 Canadian weightlifting championships, and has multiple regional titles to his credit.
"Weightlifting is always something I will do to train for football if I'm playing professionally," Gray says. "It's something that I will probably continue to do after football and compete just for fun, but it's not something that would interfere with football."
Since he first suited up for the Bisons in 2013, Gray has not missed a game – regular season or playoffs. Last season he was named most outstanding down lineman in Canada West, nominated for the J.P. Metras Trophy (awarded to the most outstanding lineman in Canadian university football) and selected as a First-Team All-Canadian and Canada West First-Team All-Star.
"I've had a really good experience overall with playing football and school and everything at Manitoba," says the engineering student, who was a key member of the 2014 Hardy Cup-winning Bisons.
"It has let me go about doing my own thing and that's let me be successful. Getting the new stadium and all the facilities we've got in the last couple years has definitely helped with making it easier to train and making things less hectic during the season."
CW CFL PROSPECT RANKINGS
For the second consecutive season, Canada West will release a list of the top conference prospects ahead of the CFL Draft.
Coaches from all six Canada West football programs are set to rank the conference's draft-eligible prospects. The rankings provide a glimpse into how Canada West coaches view the top players from around the conference.
The 2017 Canada West CFL Prospect Rankings are set to be released Thursday, May 4.
Over the last four years, a total of 52 Canada West football players have been selected in the CFL Draft.