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March 21, 2017

CFL combine created memories for Roughriders players

One event at the 2015 CFL combine went by very quickly for Tevaughn Campbell.

Then a cornerback/returner with the University of Regina Rams, Campbell set an event record with an electronically timed pass of 4.355 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

“Leading up to the combine, it was always, ‘Will he break the record? If he does, his draft stock goes up,’ ’’ recalls Campbell, now a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “(Setting the record) was pretty important knowing that it probably improved my draft stock.”

Thanks largely to his speed, Campbell was selected by the Calgary Stampeders in the third round (22nd overall) of the 2015 CFL draft. He was traded to the Roughriders prior to the 2016 season.

With the 2017 national combine to be held March 23-25 at Evraz Place, some current Roughriders were asked for their recollections of their trips to the event.

In Campbell’s case, the most lasting memory is his dash.

“I was thinking about the record,” he replies when asked where he was mentally as the combine approached.

“I knew I was fast. I didn’t know if I could break the record, but I knew that I was around that time and that if I ran hard enough, I could break it.”

•••

Campbell competed as a sprinter with the U of R Cougars during the Rams’ off-seasons, so he expected to excel in the 40 at the combine.

Others apparently had the same thought.

“When I walked into the interviews (with team personnel), the first question they asked me was, ‘What are you going to run?’ and I told them 4.2,” Campbell says.

“I was pretty confident in myself. You don’t want to seem passive. When they ask, ‘What are you going to run?’ you don’t want to say, ‘I don’t know. I’m just going to try my best.’ I was trying to impress.”

On the day of the 40s, then-UNLV running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence set the pace with a 4.41, breaking the combine’s electronically timed record of 4.42.

Murray-Lawrence’s mark stood through the day — until the defensive backs took their turns.

Then-University of Manitoba Bisons receiver Nic Demski had run a 4.55, a time that he says gave him “a good feeling” about himself. He was across the facility preparing to run the three-cone drill when Campbell stepped to the line.

“I knew about Tevaughn’s track background because I played against him in university,” Demski says. “I was talking to him earlier and he said he wanted to run fast. When he ran 4.3, I was like, ‘Oh man, I feel slow.’

“After he ran the first one, I’m pretty sure the whole field had its eyes on him to see if he was going to run faster.”

Campbell remembers that he didn’t like some technical aspects of his run, so he tried to address those before his second attempt. He ran a 4.363 on that try, which also broke the previous record.

“I just wanted to perform the best I could that day and see what happened after that,” Campbell says. “My last year of (Rams) football had been cut short due to a sprained ankle, so I pretty much had to show up there.”

•••

Demski had participated in previous combines, so he knew what to expect from the physical testing and one-on-ones at the 2015 event in Toronto.

He wasn’t sure what to expect from another part of the combine, though.

“My first interview, I was definitely nervous because it was something I had never done before,” Demski says. “I wouldn’t say it was scary; it was just different.

“Everybody I talked to for advice prior to the combine told me, ‘Just be yourself and they can’t knock you for that,’ so I just tried to be myself.”

Demski’s first chat was with the Montreal Alouettes, who threw him for a bit of a loop.

“Anthony Calvillo was in there, so I was a little starstruck,” says Demski, referring to the ex-Als quarterback. “I knew that he was at the combine and that he had a coaching job with Montreal, but I didn’t expect him to be sitting in on an interview like that.

“I was a little bit shaken — but it was a good shaken.”

Two years later, Demski remains a tad rattled by the experience.

“Honestly, I can’t remember too many questions I got asked in that interview,” he says with a laugh. “But I for sure talked to (Calvillo) and shook his hand.

“It was a cool experience.”

Six weeks later, Demski was selected in the first round (sixth overall) by the Roughriders.

•••

Guard Brendon LaBatte also was selected sixth overall in a CFL draft, going to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2008.

The U of R product remains grateful that the Bombers overlooked his showing at the ’08 combine (then known as the E camp) … because he didn’t stand out in testing.

He finished in the top 15 in both the bench press and the broad jump, but placed near the bottom in the 40, the shuttle run and the vertical jump.

“I don’t have very good memories of the combine, to be honest,” LaBatte says. “It’s like training to go to a track meet. It’s a lot different than training for football.

“I understand that it’s a way of evaluating the guys and, as a player, what you’ve done up to that point rides on it so you put everything you can into it. But I feel like I trained for two years and I still wasn’t capable of competing with the best guys in some of those events.”

LaBatte’s CFL career has been filled with honours — seven division all-star nods, four CFL all-star selections, and the award as the league’s outstanding offensive lineman in 2013 — so he’s proof that testing numbers don’t tell the whole story about a player.

He understands that the combine can be a good measuring stick, but he also believes he would have been better served by focusing on football instead of training for the combine.

“I was never so happy as when that weekend was over and that was the last 40 I’d officially have to run,” says a chuckling LaBatte, who signed as a free agent with Saskatchewan in 2012.

“I’ve messed around with 225 (pounds) on the bench a couple of times, but I haven’t gone back to see if I could touch the numbers I put up — because, quite frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to worry about them anymore.”