The NFL is coming to Winnipeg – again.
Just one year after U of M Bisons defensive lineman David Onyemata’s unprecedented pro-day attracted scouts from more than half of the NFL’s teams, resulting in Onyemata being drafted and cracking the New Orleans Saints roster, offensive lineman Geoff Gray will have his own NFL showcase.
Gray’s big day is set for March 30 at the soccer complex in south Winnipeg, where NFL reps will put him through the paces to see if they might want to spend a draft pick on the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Winnipegger.
“That would be the best case,” Gray told the Winnipeg Sun, Thursday. “But there are still guys who have successful careers just signing as a free agent. It wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.”
No it wouldn’t. That is, after all, how the first Bison to make the NFL, Israel Idonije, did it. Idonije, the Cinderella story out of Brandon, went on to a decade-long career down south.
Last year, Onyemata began a similar against-all-odds trek, even one-upping Idonije by becoming the first Bison selected in the NFL draft.
Gray could pull off his own first: as the first Manitoba-born player drafted south of the border — Onyemata and Idonije were born in Nigeria.
What are the odds?
Bisons head coach Brian Dobie says he’s received calls about Gray from around 15 NFL teams, and so has Gray’s Canadian agent.
“Numerous teams have asked us to hold one (a pro-day),” Montreal-based agent Darren Gill said. “I’ve represented several players who have been draft eligible. But this is the most interest I’ve seen on a player and most demands for a pro day.”
As a result, Gill and Gray have decided to withdraw from the CFL combine, March 23-25, in Regina, where CFL coaches and GM’s poke, prod and measure the top prospects for the CFL draft.
Gray has shot up the chart and is currently the fifth-ranked prospect for the CFL draft.
“Timing-wise, you can’t do both in a week’s time,” Gray said. “I’m going to be doing all the same things here with a pro day. I guess the only difference is one-on-ones with defensive linemen. Then again they have film on me playing against most of those guys anyways.”
Skipping the CFL combine – Onyemata did, too — shouldn’t be seen as a slight to the three-down loop. Not when you have this much NFL interest.
“From the impressions I’ve got from anyone in the CFL, they’ve been very supportive of just trying to pursue the NFL as much as I can,” Gray said. “It worked out well for Dave.”
Gray is coming off a stellar fourth season with the Bisons, in which he was named an all-Canadian, Canada-West Conference all-star and the best down lineman in the conference.
The mechanical engineering student only began to think of the possibility of playing professionally in Canada last spring.
An invitation to the East-West Shrine Game in the U.S. last month, and his subsequent performance against top college players in the States, put Gray on the NFL radar – and the NFL on Gray’s.
“Going into university… I just would have never considered the thought of playing football past that,” Gray said. “I don’t really like to think too far ahead. And really just based on how well I did at the Shrine game was when I started seriously thinking about the NFL.”
Gray says the CFL remains a viable option, too, but only after he’s explored every opportunity down south.
“At the end of the day it’s football,” he said. “You’re going to have the same amount of fun playing the game. But given the opportunity, you’re going to take the NFL if you can.”
Dobie says having the NFL scouting his players yet again is a reflection of the strength of Canadian university ball in general.
“This is the fourth year in a row we have had conversations about Bison players,” Dobie said. “The more that happens, the better it is for everybody. U-Sports becomes part of their process.”
Dobie says Gray’s smarts and systematic approach to his craft set him apart.
“It is not a great day for Jeff if he’s not gotten better at something or learned something,” is how Dobie put it.
A national-caliber weightlifter, Gray leaves for a training facility in Florida, Friday, where he’ll spend the university reading week learning more about the American game and preparing for his pro day.
Suddenly, this football thing has become serious.
“I didn’t bank on it as a career option,” Gray said.
It is now.
Source: Winnipeg Sun