March 23, 2024

Golden Bears hopefuls looking to make dreams come true at the CFL Combine

EDMONTON, AB – It’s the show before the show.

The CFL Combine is well underway in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s an audition in front of all the major players in Canadian Football front offices to show that the skills match the tape. For a quartet of University of Alberta Golden Bears, its a chance to see a dream realized, by putting their best foot forward prior to the April 30 CFL Draft.

Tyshon Blackburn,  Daniel Shin, Matthew Peterson, and Jonathan Giustini are all part of a recruiting push that has ushered in a resurgence in Golden Bears Football. The Bears finished second in the Canada West division last season with a 6-2 record and defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 40-17 for their first playoff win since 2010.

“We’re watching coach Morris. That’s what he’s been trying to build is a program where we all are there to win,” Blackburn said about the turn around. “We kind of knew situation we were coming into when we were all signing in 2019 and that it wasn’t a winning team fully yet. All the guys that we signed with in 2019 went in there with the goal to go alongside coach Morris and turn the program around.”

The new generation of talent has been noticed by the CFL, with recent alumni like Elks linebackers Jake Taylor and Josiah Schakel joining other recent CFL draftees in Saskatchewan’s Jayden Dalke and Calgary’s Rodeem Brown. It’s unknown if the next batch of Golden Bears attending the CFL Combine will join them, but they have the next few days (including Sunday’s Scrimmage) to shine the spotlight on Alberta Football.


The 6-3, 208 lb. defender out of Calgary, AB finished up his fourth year of eligibility with the Golden Bears and looks to make good on a life-long dream.

Blackburn hopes a solid collegiate career — one where he finished with exactly 100-total tackles in 32 games, adding four interceptions and 12 passes defended — is enough to draw the eyes of CFL pro scouts. The Draft is a moment he’s been waiting on for a while and he believes his choice to go to the University of Alberta was the right path to prepare him for it.

“The goal I’ve had since junior was to go pro — since I was like eight years old,” Blackburn said. “I took into account what program I thought was going to put me in the best position to make it to the next level, so that was definitely near front of my mind.”

The other consideration for Blackburn was staying close to his mom in Calgary. A football fan herself, she was the reason Tyshon started playing football in the first place. He ended up loving the game and offers to play University football followed. Despite potential opportunities to go to College out East, Blackburn made Alberta his priority.

“I come from a small family, it’s just me and my mom,” Blackburn said. “I didn’t want to just move to other side of the country when I was 18, so it kind of made sense it was a home not too far away from home. She was really happy with my decision. She supported me all the way.

“She did everything that she could to make sure I had the opportunities that I needed to succeed. She’s always been my number one supporter just in life in general, so, yeah, I definitely wouldn’t be here without her.”


The Golden Bears have a reputation for pumping out quality offensive linemen and Daniel Shin is looking to be the next one.

Current Alberta alumni plying their trade in the pros include Elks centre Mark Korte, Tiger-Cats centre David Beard, Alouettes centre Justin Lawrence, and Stampeders OL Rodeem Brown — not to mention Carter O’Donnell, who is Elks property but is presently a member of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

For Shin, the development curve has been slow and steady as the 6-4, 283 lb. lineman has transformed into a rock in the Golden Bears trenches. Now, at the CFL Combine in Winnipeg, Shin is starting to believe that pro football could be a reality.

“It was always a dream,” he said. “When I came out of high school, I was really undersized and my goal was to just crack the starting roster and just get some playing time and just keep working hard. I didn’t know it was really feasible until I kind of got into my third and fourth years. That’s when it kind of hit me.”

In the case of a lot of offensive linemen, one of the hardest battles comes away from the football field. In the pros, the athletes get faster, stronger, and definitely bigger. Keeping up weight around the 300 lb. mark is not only a part of the job, it’s a requirement.

“That’s definitely been a grind. Some of the hardest things that I’ve had to do is just try and put on that much weight, but with all the training that goes on, it’s pretty easy to stay hungry and to eat a lot,” Shin said. “I’m lucky to live at home right now, and I have support from family, my parents. Coming home to a home-cooked meal every now and then, it’s pretty nice.”

If Shin were to hear his named called on April 30th, it would justify the big dreams and bigger meals.

“It’d mean everything,” Shin said.  “All the hard work, all the mornings, just everything. All the tough times. It would kind of just make it feel worthwhile, and it would mean the world to me.”


Peterson was invited to the CFL Combine after an electric season at the University of Alberta.

Stepping out from under last season’s Bears RB  in Jonathan Rosery — who was a seventh-round pick of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2023 — Peterson’s production skyrocketed. The Brooks, AB native racked up 1477 scrimmage yards in 10 games, including a 307 yard performance against the Saskatchewan Huskies on Sept. 15, 2023.

After months of training for the combine with his teammates, Peterson is just taking in the entire experience.

“That process has been very interesting. It’s definitely surreal,” he said. “You go throughout your whole childhood with this big dream and now it’s finally here. It’s been quite the time, especially this year, going throughout your draft season, and being able to put on film the player you are.”

Canadian running backs have seen a rise to prominence over the last few years. From the success of Andrew Harris, to the recent batch of Canucks including Carolina Panthers star and Edmonton product Chuba Hubbard, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian Brady Oliveira, and rising RB Chase Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals.

However, it’s not the trio of excellent Canadian RBs whose footsteps Peterson will be following, it will be his dads.

“To be honest, I didn’t really get a choice,” Peterson said about starting to play football. “My dad played high-level football, so by the time I turned three I had a football in my hand.”

Matthew’s dad Marvin was also a running back at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska where he currently has the fourth-longest kickoff return (94 yards) and the fourth-best rush average (5.04 yards per carry) in school history. Peterson followed his dad’s path by going the Collegiate route, but now with the chance to get drafted and begin a pro career, he can carve his own path and make his family and friends proud.

“It’ll mean everything to me,” Peterson said about being drafted. “I’ve played football my life, definitely. Like I said, it was a goal. Just reaching a goal in that aspect, it means everything, not just to me. I’m doing it for my family. I do it for the guys back home in Brooks. I just don’t do it for myself.”


Versatility is the name of the game for Jonathan Giustini.

The Calgary, AB product pulled double duty for the Golden Bears from 2019-2023, showing a prowess as both a ballhawk and a kicker over his four seasons. Last year, Giustini racked up 48-total tackles — good enough for third on the team — and a stellar five interceptions in 10 games.

On special teams he was a factor as well, serving as the Golden Bears punter and kicker. It’s not unusual for a a position player to play multiple phases of the game — former EE kicker Grant Shaw played both safety and linebacker before becoming a full-time special teamer — however Giustini isn’t closing any doors on either side of the ball.

“While I’m here at the combine, I pretty much focused on my DB game,” he said.  “But I haven’t given up on either one. I’ve still been able to focus on both.”

Giustini comes from a soccer background, which was a huge benefit in the kicking game, but maintains his priority on training as a defensive back. It’s not hard to see why after averaging an interception every two games in his final season with the University of Alberta. To get a an idea of the CFL Combine process, Giustini has reached out to fellow Golden Bears alumni Jake Taylor, Josiah Schakel, and Jayden Dalke. The goal for the multi-talented prospect is to be suiting up alongside them come CFL training camp in May.

“Ever since I started playing football, I’ve always dreamed of playing professional football,” Giustini said. “And then, ever since university, it really hit me that I actually have a possibility to make that dream come true. I’m extremely grateful to be able to have this opportunity and be at the combine and be able to show what I can do.”