Moments before he was selected by the Toronto Argonauts in Tuesday’s CFL draft, Ryan Nieuwesteeg received a call from the team informing him of the impending selection.
“I had to compose myself to answer the phone call and after I got off the phone it was indescribable,” the 22-year-old Niagara Falls native said. “You have so many emotions and you worked so hard for something that has been a lifelong goal. To see it come to reality is truly something special. I can’t even put into words how great I felt.”
The Guelph Gryphons player was chosen in the eighth round, 66th overall by the Toronto Argonauts while Guelph teammate Kyle Fraser-Audit, a Port Colborne native, was taken with the first pick of the sixth round, 45th overall by the Ottawa Redblacks.
Nieuwesteeg, a Saint Paul alumnus, was chosen with the fifth last pick of the draft.
“I knew it was down to the last couple of picks and I knew Toronto had been looking at me a bit,” he said. “I was getting nervous, but it was a great feeling and a dream come true.
“I don’t know how high I jumped off my seat, but it was definitely a good feeling.”
Nieuwesteeg will attend Toronto’s rookie camp within the next two weeks and the main camp starts May 29.
“The camp is in Guelph so it’s nice that I don’t have to move or anything,” he said. “I get to start my first training camp in the CFL where I played my university ball. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
He’s motivated to make an instant impression.
“Being one of the last picks in the draft, I know I have a lot to prove,” he said. “It’s not like I am coming in and expecting to be a key contributor right away. But at the same time, I am confident in my abilities and I know I can go out there and turn some heads and hopefully make the other eight teams in the league regret not taking me earlier.”
The 5-foot-8 170 pounder knows he will have to overcome the questions about his size.
“Even last (Tuesday) night when they were talking about me at the draft, they were saying how small I am but it’s nothing to me. I’ve dealt with it my whole life,” he said.
If anything, he like to look at his size as a advantage.
“A lot of guys have the size and strength and it’s something I’ve never had,” Nieuwesteeg said. “I always had to play with a chip on my shoulder and I’ve felt that I play bigger than I actually am. I am hoping to get to camp and prove it to them as well.”
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Nieuwesteeg proved himself at the CFL draft combine, finishing second in the 40-yard dash and long jump, and was half of inch away from being in second place in the vertical jump. He followed that up with a strong showing at Toronto’s tryout camp.
“I think that’s what did it,” he said. “I impressed the coaches there and I showed them my receiving ability had really improved in a short amount of time.”
This past season, with the Ontario champion Gryphons, Nieuwesteeg was an OUA second team all-star. Two years ago, he was an OUA first team all-star and a second team all-Canadian punt returner. He has been Guelph’s special teams player of the year the past two seasons.
“Whatever situation they put me in, I’m hoping to flourish whether it’s running back or receiver,” he said. “I see them trying me out as receiver and hopefully giving me a chance at returning. I feel I can come in and make an impact as a returner right away.”
Nieuwesteeg plans to do two-a-day workouts in the days leading up to the first camp.
“I am getting my body ready for camp and not just any camp; a pro camp,” he said. “The first thing on my mind is to get to work and take things seriously.”
Fraser-Audit, a Lakeshore Catholic alumnus, was also following the draft on TSN Go with his girlfriend and roommate. The moment he was selected was a memorable one.
“It went very quiet and it was one of those moments that is hard to describe,” he said.
Once it sank in, he began looking ahead to his first pro camp in Ottawa later this month.
“I was thinking that I have to get to work and step it up now.”
The 6-foot-5, 290 pound former Niagara Spears player knows there’s lots of work ahead.
“I have to get bigger, faster, stronger, get mentally ready and get my body ready for training camp,” he said. “Training camps are rough and they cause a lot of wear and tear on your body.”
Fraser-Audit has set a high goal for himself.
“I want to crack the roster and show them that I can play football and that I wasn’t a wasted draft pick,” he said.
But it won’t be easy.
“Everything can be improved,” he said.
The four-year veteran of Guelph’s offensive line was second in bench press reps (25) at the CFL draft combine to prove he has the muscle to compete at the next level.
Being invited to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport East West Bowl two seasons ago, is when Fraser-Audit realized he had a shot at a pro career. The event showcases the top CIS football prospects who are eligible for the CFL draft the following year.
“An agent contacted me and spoke highly of me,” he said. “He told me I was good and had a shot at doing it. That is when it kind of sank in.”
Fraser-Audit has already started to get ready for Ottawa.
“It’s everything from explosive training in the weight room, power lifting in the weight room, running, foot work and specific skills for my position,” he said.