Shomari Williams took a long, laborious path to get reach his football dreams.
Now the Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker is trying to make the journey a little easier for young football players.
Williams’ Top Prospects Canada hosted a scouting combine for 81 high school and junior-aged football players at the Field House Sunday.
“This was probably the best football camp I’ve been to,” said Central senior quarterback Bren Forbes. “It’s the best way to get your name out there and it was better than I expected.
“All of the coaches are here. It’s hard in Saskatchewan for people to find out who you are.”
While Forbes is aiming to stay closer to home, making the leap from a Canadian high school program to the NCAA is difficult. That was a lesson Williams learned when he tried to land a scholarship in the U.S. to a division I program.
“It was a long process. I went through high school and didn’t get a scholarship,” said Williams who is from Brampton, Ont.
He opted to go to a CÉGEP — Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville, Que. — where he was able to land a scholarship at the University of Houston.
“I went to a prep school in Québec and spent two seasons there,” said Williams. “It was just a grind for me: every night I had to break down film, make the DVDs, mail it out in the morning and the call the universities until I got that scholarship. That was just the determination I had to get one.”
Williams spent three seasons at Houston. After completing his degree, with a year of eligibility remaining, he transferred to Queen’s and won the Vanier Cup in his only season of CIS football before being selected first overall by the Riders.
“It was the best experience of my life playing in Houston. Though the journey was long it was definitely worth it,” said Williams.
“That’s the goal: to make path a little bit easier for kids to get to the States or to get to a university in Canada. We want to help them reach their dreams.”
The combine is one of eight stops on Top Prospects Canada’s elite combine series this year. The event drew 81 players from across the province.
“It was good to see how everyone looked,” said Vanier senior receiver Matt Morris. “It’s nice to be able to see how you compare to everyone else and you don’t have to drive far.”
The players took part in testing for the 40-yard dash, a shuttle run and the broad jump. They also took part in a recruiting seminar and performed one-on-one drills.
“There was a lot of talent out here,” said Williams. “I’ve run three (combines) and this was probably the best one I’ve run so far.
“We’re definitely happy with the numbers. The kids were really good. They were pumped and they drove in from P.A.; they drove from Yorkton. Any time you get kids who were dedicated like that it’s a great experience.”
The players were tutored by a dozen coaches — including Central offensive co-ordinator Matt Dominguez — comprised mainly of Saskatchewan Roughrider players.
Six university or junior programs — including a number of coaches from all four Saskatchewan post-secondary programs — scouted the combine.
While there were plenty of eyes on them in person, all of their scores will be posted on the Top Prospects Canada web site where they can upload game film to attract the attention of university coaches.