Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON – The 2017 Canadian Football League Draft takes place May 7 – an annual occasion that sees our country's top young players instantly go from university vet to pro newbie.
This is what Mitchell Picton has dreamed of; it's what he's trained for.
And it's what the Regina Rams slotback believes he's prepared to do.
"I think that's a switch I'm ready to make," says the accounting major, who has one year of U SPORTS eligibility remaining. "I'm definitely going to finish my degree whether I'm playing pro football or if I'm back in (university) playing with the Rams. But i feel like being a professional athlete is something I'm ready for."
After a season in which he led the nation with 11 touchdown catches and ranked second in both receptions (58) and receiving yards (834), all while being named both a First-Team All-Canadian and Canada West All-Star, Picton's name is one that appears frequently in draft projections.
"You kind of hear about it, but I don't put a whole lot of emphasis on that, it's not something I worry about," he says. "I'm going to keep doing what I do, I'm going to keep training and we'll see whatever happens on Draft Day."
Picton speaks with the composure of someone who's been through this process before, and such experience abounds within his circle: older brother Aaron Picton is an offensive lineman, who was drafted out of Regina by the Calgary Stampeders in 2015, before playing a pair of games with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last season. The six-foot-two Picton also trains with Rams alumni Addison Richards, a wide receiver for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Edmonton Eskimos' slotback Chris Getzlaf, who won a Grey Cup with the Roughriders in 2013.
"I've got lots of resources that I can use for what to expect and to help me out along the way," says Picton.
Another critical resource is Levi Steinhauer, a former Roughriders fullback and current CFL free-agent, who trained Picton prior to the recent CFL Combine in Regina.
"He had me ready to go, physically and mentally," Picton says. "I felt great, my body was in great shape, and (the Combine) was everything I expected. I kind of knew what to expect going it and I thought I performed well. It was a great experience."
DREAMS CAN COME TRUE
That playing the game he loves could double as a job started to seem possible to Picton last year, when he took part in the East-West Bowl – an annual off-season showcase of the top U SPORTS prospects eligible for the following year's CFL Draft.
"When I was chosen to go to that, it kind of became real that playing pro would be an achievable goal," Picton says. "Having CFL scouts watch your practices and interview you, that's when I started getting the pro experience."
From Getzlaf, a veteran of 10 CFL seasons, to Richards, who was drafted two years ago, Picton is hoping to be the latest in a line of prolific pass-catchers that have earned Regina the nickname 'Receiver U' within Canadian football circles.
"I've been able to learn from some incredible guys - players and coaches - that have really helped develop me as a player."
It's almost as if Picton was groomed for this; raised in a football family alongside Aaron and their cousins Noah Picton, Regina's current starting quarterback and the reigning winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy as the nation's top university football player, and Blake Anaka, who also went to LeBoldus and has been a depth running back on the Rams for the past three seasons.
Mitchell and Noah Picton have been inseparable since they started playing football, co-coached by their fathers on the same youth team. In fact, the biggest challenge Picton encounters as a professional might be learning to haul in passes from someone besides his cannon-armed cousin, who has been on the other end of countless Picton completions over the years.
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.