For CFL draft picks making their first run at professional football, training camp is basically one long physical and mental assault.
It’s like the most gruelling algebra class they could ever imagine followed by the most overwhelming gym class they could ever imagine.
Every day of the week.
They’ve all been attending football camps since they were in junior high school, but the pros are an entirely different animal.
“Man, the speed is fast,” said safety Jordan Beaulieu, the Edmonton Eskimos second pick, 24th overall in the 2018 draft. “The speed that the receivers run, the ball when it comes out, the cuts, these guys are great athletes. It’s a new level.
“And on top of that you have know a lot in a very short period of time. I’m like a sponge, I take in everything I can.”
Godfrey Onyeka, selected 10th overall from Wilfred Laurier, also feels like somebody hit the fast forward switch.
“It’s a lot faster than I thought it was going to be, and a lot more complicated,” said the 24-year-old cornerback. “It’s been a learning experience.”
Is he feeling more comfortable as the days go by?
“No,” he laughed. “There is still a lot of pressure. Things are still moving at a pace that is a lot quicker than you are used to. And the playbook is a lot more complex than what I’m used to. I try to pick up as much as I can every day.”
While all rookies are somewhat surprised but the size, strength and athleticism of CFL players, the thing they find most intimidating is the playbook. It is unlike anything they’ve ever had to digest before and the classroom doesn’t slow down for anyone.
“It’s crazy how much more mental football is the higher you get,” said Onyeka. “There is a bunch of stuff I’ve already learned this week that I never even thought of, but they are things that make football that much easier.”
Cornerback Jordan Hoover (4th round, 31st overall in the 2017 draft) knows exactly what all these players are going through. He was a rookie last season, just as raw and nervous as Beaulieu and Onyeka are, but managed to not only make the team, but play himself into a important role, stepping in as strong-side corner in the Labour Day rematch with Calgary after two other DBs went down with injuries.
He says his rookie training camp last year was definitely a shock to the system.
“It was hard,” said Hoover. “I had never seen speed like that. I’d never seen formations like that. Just the whole thing.”
Looking back, he says the most important reps a rookie can take are the mental ones. It’s great to be able to run fast, but if you’re running fast in the wrong direction it does more harm than good.
So if he has any advice to give to this year’s crop it is to do their homework. No matter how tired they are or how overloaded their brains might feel, read a little more.
“It’s definitely a lot to grasp,” he said of the defensive schemes. “You have an install day and then you come out the next day to run the plays you just learned last night. Then you go into film and re-learn it. Then you go into the next defensive meeting and they say OK, now we’re here. And you’re thinking, ‘I still don’t fully understand (yesterday’s stuff).’
“You get all these plays thrown at you and we say we’ve got it, but maybe we don’t really have it yet. So when you’re at home and you think ‘I’ve done enough in my playbook tonight,’ do a little bit more.
“There is always more you can do, whether it’s watching film, analyzing. A lot of us are roomed together by position, so just talking to the guy next to you, working through plays, helps. Just when you think you might have it, put in a little extra time.”
Because you never know when your chance might come.
“If you look at our draft picks for the last two years there are a lot of guys who are contributing to our team,” said head coach Jason Maas. “When we draft you, we draft you for a reason. It’s with the expectation that you can play.
“Just because you’re a draft pick doesn’t mean you’re just coming in here to learn — we might put you in. If you’re good enough to play we might play you.
“So I believe it would be a source of inspiration for guys like Godfrey or Beaulieu to see guys like Hoover and Arjen Colquhoun playing early. Right now we have two guys penciled in in our secondary as Canadians. There’s a reason we’ve done that, we feel like they can play. It’s up to them to keep that ratio where it is.”