With the East West Shrine Game kicking off next week one of the things we will be doing once again a roster preview like we did for the HBCU Bowl back in December, and for the Casino Del Sol Game earlier this week. However, given our passion for small school scouting one of the things we really wanted to concentrate on in this year’s Shrine Game is the Canadian College Invites.
Since 1985 the Shrine Game has been inviting players down to their game and this year in no different. Traditionally only two total invites are given out but this year they went with three which is the second most they’ve ever given out (four were handed out in 2007). The players that were selected were OL Ben Heenan, DL Akiem Hicks, and DL Arnaud Gascon-Nadon. Here are the breakdowns of those players;
OL Ben Heenan-Saskatchewan
6’4, 310 lbs.
Heenan is a 21 year old prospect who has been a dominant player in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS, NCAA equivalent) for the past four years. He was named CanWest Rookie of the Year, and is coming off back to back All-Canadian Team placements. He has been an offensive guard for most of his career, but this past season he was asked to kick outside to offensive tackle. The tape shows a guy with a strong punch, and good strength at the point of attack. He has good but not great size for the OT position and we really want to see how his arms measure. We see him as an OG in the future and the scouts in Canada we have spoke to all agreed that he is an interior guy. Heenan tends to get high out of his stance and he must do a better job of staying low and playing with leverage. His build also appears a little top heavy but that should be correctable once he’s in a more structured weight training program. Right now the CFL Scouting Bureau ranks Heenan as the #1 overall CFL College Draft prospect however the scouts I spoke to disagreed with that assessment and said he is absolutely among the best but they don’t feel like he is the best. He may be a guy who struggles to adapt to the different nuances between the Canadian and American games.
DL Arnaud Gascon-Nadon-Laval
6’3, 250 lbs.
Gascon-Nadon started his career playing for Rice in Conference USA, but after spending some time there he bounced back to Canada and went to the powerhouse program of Laval. Laval is well known for taking these “bounce back” players who try out American college first. This is part of what makes them so good kind of like what North Alabama was previously known to do at the Division II level. Like Heenan, Gascon-Nadal is a two year All-Canadian Team member who has absolutely dominated his competition in the CIS. His numbers are down this year because of the extra focus that teams have given him. He still managed to register seven sacks in nine games, after registering eight sacks in seven games last year. He need to work on his strength and ability to shed blocks almost all of his big plays come from his ability to beat the OL with his speed and make plays in the backfield. He’s a two time winner of the RSEQ Conference Lineman of the Year Award and is currently ranked as a top three DL prospect for this year’s CFL Collegiate Draft.
DL Akiem Hicks-Regina
6’6, 305 lbs.
I saved the best for last and that would be Akiem Hicks from Regina University. Akiem Hicks may be a name that rings a bell for some of you who follow recruiting closely because at one time he was considered a top level four star JUCO signee for the LSU Tigers. Hicks signed with LSU coming out of Sacramento CC but ran into an issue with a housing situation that may have involved a booster. Needless to say he left LSU and went north to Regina. This year there may have not been a more tenacious or fearsome DL than Akiem Hicks in the CIS. Akiem lead his team in tackles, sacks, TFL, and forced fumbles this year. He is a two time All-CanWest (Conference) player and was also All-Conference in JUCO. Hicks actually beat out Ben Heenan for the CanWest nominee for Lineman of the Year. Hicks has fantastic NFL size, long arms, and a good build. He looks like a prototypical five tech in a 34 defense to us and with his strength and athletic ability he could be a handle off the edge. We’ll be very interested to see how the coaches in this game use Hicks since we project him outside to DE but they may choose to use him as a DT. We also want to see how he reacts to playing against players than are as strong and physical as he is. CIS players tend to be a little smaller than NCAA players so he will be taking quite a jump up. The key to Hicks succeeding though will be his ability to get off the ball quickly, if his first step is as good as it looked on film then not only could he be a successful prospect at this game he could put himself into a position to get drafted. Hicks is not eligible for the CFL Draft so it’s NFL or bust for him at this point.
The East West Shrine Game will air on the NFL Network on January 21st at 4:00pm