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Virtual combine presents new challenge for USask Huskies CFL draft hopefuls

The status of the 2021 Canadian Football League season remains up in the air but the league’s annual draft is set to go ahead next month and three USask Huskies players are doing all they can to ensure they are selected.

Defensive backs Josh Hagerty and Nelson Lokombo and offensive lineman Connor Berglof were invited to take part in the CFL draft combine. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional event has been replaced by a virtual one.

Instead of going through a battery of tests, football drills and interviews in Toronto alongside the rest of the nation’s draft prospects, the Huskies are submitting their own testing and drill videos and meeting with team officials over Zoom.

It’s not the same pressure-packed atmosphere of the national combine, but it’s still their last chance before the May 4 draft to prove they belong in the pros.

“I wish we would have been in Toronto to experience the whole experience of it and meet with all the coaches and GMs, but this way, having the pro day here, we’re in a comfortable environment. We’ve been training all winter here,” Hagerty said.

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The trio hasn’t played a game in nearly 18 months but their pre-pandemic performances had CFL scouts taking notice. A strong showing in the 40-metre dash or bench press could make all the difference come draft day.

“It’s definitely nice to know that I’m on their radar and stuff, and the attention’s there. I really appreciate it and now I just have to go out and show what I can do and these numbers have to be good so I can hopefully get some calls from some teams,” Hagerty said.

Offensive linemen don’t typically take part in the 40-metre dash so Berglof’s focus is on the bench press.

“I was just trying to get over 20 reps on (the) bench because that’s about it, that’s about standard for linemen. If you can hit 20 that just shows that you’ve been in the gym,” he said.

The last time the Huskies were in action, Lokombo had a sensational season, setting a program record for interception return yards and earning U SPORTS Defensive Player of the Year honours.

Even though the 2020 season was cancelled, he doesn’t feel any pressure to prove he can still play at the same high level after such a long layoff.

“I’m sure a lot of people think of it as that way, (the) pressure. I don’t really see it. I see it as trusting my capabilities and proving that,” he said.

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Lokombo, who is also hoping to draw interest from the NFL, says combine drills like the 40-metre dash are a chance to give scouts hard numbers to go with they’ve already seen from him in games.

“You see me on game tape, you see my speed on game tape and having that 40 (time) to just confirm that is huge,” he said.

There’s not much intrigue surrounding Lokombo’s draft status as he’s expected to be one of the first players selected. The outlook for Hagerty and Berglof is not as clear, especially with this year’s draft shrinking from eight rounds to six, but their coach believes all three players can make an impact at the professional level.

“The tape and their ability to play the game is unquestioned. Now it’s kind of showing where they fit amongst (the rest) from a numbers standpoint. No doubt about it, once these three guys get on the football field, any team that gets them, they’re gonna get a gem,” Scott Flory said.

They’ve put their best foot forward and now it’s a waiting game. All three players have already been contacted by CFL clubs but their fates won’t be determined until May 4.

“Every little kid who plays football wants a chance to go pro and this is my shot so I’m trying to make the most of it,” Berglof said.

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