By Rob Vanstone
Most people can travel 40 yards in 4.49 seconds — as long as they call Uber or seek some form of motorized assistance.
Then there is Riley Boersma, whose economical times in the 40-yard dash at the CFL’s 2022 Western Regional and National Combines left tongues wagging and friends texting.
Such a breakthrough could very well be experienced by prospects who attend this year’s CFL Invitational Combine — which is set for Friday at the University of Waterloo. Friday’s event replaces the three regional combines that were held in previous years.
A total of 76 draft-eligible players are to attend the Invitational Combine. Top performers will advance to the National Combine, March 22-26 in Edmonton.
“I think it can be really beneficial if you take it seriously and train really hard for it,” says Boersma, whom the Saskatchewan Roughriders selected in the eighth round (72nd overall) of the 2022 CFL draft. “I think it depends on the player.
“I’m sure there are some people who go to the combine and it actually hurts their draft stock, but if you’re the type of person who maybe didn’t play on a super-high-powered offence or you didn’t have all the opportunities to really show what you’re capable of and then you get a chance to go to one of these combines and show how athletic you are and be able to do some one-on-ones against some of the best players in the country, I think it’s a huge opportunity.”
As it was for Boersma, who attended last year’s Western Regional Combine in Edmonton after playing for a University of Regina Rams team that posted a 1-5 record in a COVID-shortened 2021 season while starting an assortment of quarterbacks due to injuries.
Boersma proceeded to post the fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) in addition to registering the longest broad jump (10 feet eight inches) and tying University of Manitoba Bisons receiver Gavin Cobb for the highest vertical jump (40.5 inches) on March 18, 2022.
There was a comparable ascent in Boersma’s draft stock.
One of only five players who advanced from the Western combine to the national event, he proceeded to cover 40 yards in a blistering 4.49 seconds in Toronto.
“As I was walking back, Pinball Clemons came over and gave me a high-five and said, ‘Wow, man, you were really moving there,’ and he told me the hand time they gave me,” Boersma says, recalling his interaction with the Toronto Argonauts’ genial general manager.
When the results became official, Boersma was busy with other combine-related matters. As a result, he actually learned of his eye-popping 40-yard time while being inundated with texts from friends who sent exclamation-point-laden messages along the lines of “4.49!!!”
“At the combine, I think I ran a 4.49 and a 4.55, and I couldn’t tell the difference,” Boersma says. “Actually, I thought I ran slower in the 4.49, because my right foot hit my calf and I thought, ‘That wasn’t a very good time,’ but you really don’t know. You train your form for so long that you’re just running.”
So was the battery on his phone, fortunately, because the 4.49-second time went viral.
“I think I had 100 notifications,” Boersma marvels. “It was my 15 minutes of fame.”
Or his 4.49 seconds of fame, as it were.
“I knew that would play a pretty big role in helping me get drafted,” says Boersma, 23, who is from Cambridge, Ont.
After attending the Roughriders’ training camp in 2022, Boersma returned to the Rams for a fourth season of Canada West football.
In eight games, he caught 34 passes for 311 yards, increasing his career totals — compiled over four seasons — to 73 receptions for 1,074 yards. He has six touchdowns in 25 U Sports games.
Shortly after the 2022 season, the Roughriders announced that Boersma had re-signed with the team. Although he has one season of collegiate eligibility remaining, his goal is to make the CFL team this year.
In the meantime, the 5-foot-10, 191-pounder is complementing his off-season training with a focus on school — he is a perennial Academic All-Canadian — and an appreciation for the scenery that mountainous Kimberley, B.C. has to offer.
“I have three classes left in my degree that I can take online, so I moved out here and got a job on a ski hill, which gives me a free ski pass,” says Boersma, who is majoring in philosophy, politics and economics with an eye toward eventually receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology.
“I’ve been doing a good amount of skiing while I’m out here. As soon as I’m done this interview, I’m going to get on a chair lift and go for a couple of runs.”
With a vertical leap exceeding 40 inches — one that enables Boersma to dunk a basketball even though he is 5-foot-10 — who needs a chair lift? Just jump to the top of the hill.
“Maybe at Mission Ridge,” he says with a chuckle, “but not the hills out here.”