The 2023 CFL Combine is underway in Edmonton, and for a quartet of local student-athletes, these next few days represent their biggest steps yet on their football career path.
University of Alberta Golden Bears teammates Kwadwo Boahen, Eli Hetlinger, Jonathan Rosery and Jake Taylor are among the prospects for the 2023 CFL Draft who will be showcasing their skills at the Commonwealth Stadium Community Recreation Centre fieldhouse, now through Sunday.
Before beginning an exhaustive schedule of testing, drills and practice, the U of A players had a few moments on Wednesday to reflect on how a childhood dream can come true.
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» CFL Combine Coming to Commonwealth Rec Centre
QB | Eli Hetlinger
For Hetlinger, it started next door to the Recreation Centre, where he was inspired to try minor football after cheering for the Green and Gold on Friday nights under the bright lights of Commonwealth Stadium.
“When I was eight years old, me and my dad had season tickets to the Elks and we’d go to every game,” the Golden Bears quarterback recalls. “And one game, I just asked my dad, ‘Hey, this looks like a bunch of fun. Can you sign me up?”
Hetlinger took to quarterbacking almost immediately. He grew up watching Green and Gold greats Jason Mass and Ricky Ray under centre for the EE, and brings a bit of both the former’s fire and latter’s composure.
“I’m little bit more laid back,” says Hetlinger, who attended Harry Ainlay high school in south Edmonton. “I don’t really get stressed out about too many things on the field, but then I also think I can be a bit fiery, and I get excited when things go well and I make sure I bring that energy to the team.”
Hetlinger appeared in five games for the Golden Bears in 2022, completing 95 of 154 passes for 1,396 yards with nine touchdowns to just four interceptions.
He’s recently trained with Elks quarterback Tre Ford, who last season became the first Canadian quarterback to start for the Green and Gold since 1968. Hetlinger hopes to follow the trail blazed by Ford.
“It’s a huge possibility and opportunity now that Canadian quarterbacks are getting looked at,” Hetlinger says. “It bodes well for me in the future. I’m excited to see where these next couple of years go.”
LB | Jake Taylor
While Taylor now checks in at six-foot-two and 215 pounds, the linebacker has always approached football like he’s the smallest dog in the fight.
Because his hometown of Beaumont didn’t have a large enough population to support minor football programming younger age groups, he initially had to play kids who were older.
“I think that that really, really gave me some courage. I learned to be the smaller guy that is just willing to throw his body at the big boys,” says Taylor, who played high school football at Salisbury Composite in nearby Sherwood Park. “Then I started hitting the gym, but I still thought (with the mindset like) I was the small guy.”
Taylor was ranked 18th on both the fall and winter edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top 20 prospects for the 2023 CFL Draft. It won’t be long before he’s playing inside the stadiums where he used to be a fan. From the smallest kid on the field to a larger-than-life hero in the eyes of today’s youth.
“Me and my family always went to the games, and I vividly remember walking around the stadium with my aunt and my parents, being really young, having my popcorn,” says Taylor.
“I was actually talking to my brother about it and it’s just crazy to think how I would look up to guys like (former Green and Gold linebacker and Edmonton native) Corbin Sharun and be like, ‘Wow, he plays in the CFL. Like, that is a real football player. And now I’m here. It’s a pretty cool opportunity.”
RB | Jonathan Rosery
Whether catching passes, taking handoffs, or fielding kickoffs, Rosery has been leaving opponents in the dust throughout his university football career with what could only be described as innate speed.
So it’s no surprise to learn that his father, John Rosery, was a Canada Games record holder in the 100-metre race and is now a revered coach in the local track and field community, where he works with both the Edmonton Masters Athletic Association and Olympic Track and Field Club.
“He’s the one that got me into track,” says Rosery. “I think every sport revolves around track no matter what you do, so my dad always told me, even when wanted to stray away from track, that I should keep on running track because track helps you so much in football.”
Rosery has spent significant portions of his university football career playing both running back and wide receiver and has been used extensively on kick and punt returns. This past season he was named a Canada West All-Star at the receiver position, after leading Canada West with 89.3 receiving yards per game.
“I consider myself a receiver primarily, but I also consider myself a hybrid player,” says Rosery, who started in minor football at running back, played receiver in Grade 10 and 11 before switching back to running back for Grade 12 at Harry Ainlay, then spent his first three years with the Bears as a running back before returning to the receiver slot for 2022. “I’ve been bouncing back and forth for a long time.”
From the track to all over the football field, Rosery has excelled. And this from someone who originally dreamed of starring in another sport altogether.
“I originally wanted to play hockey, but all the spots were filled,” he recalls. “I really wanted to be a goalie. But I’m happy I chose football for sure.”
DL | Kwadwo Boahen
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It was a chance encounter, followed by a compelling sales pitch, that led Boahen to the gridiron.
“I was playing, riding bikes in my own neighborhood and there was a team practicing and their coach, Robert Watson, saw me and my friend just goofing around, and he said, ‘You guys should come and play football,’” the Calgary native recalls.
Boahen said yes. His mom, who was not the slightest bit familiar with football, said no.
“She didn’t want me to get hurt. And then a month later, after talking to her and coach Rob coming to visit my parents, she’s like, ‘Yeah, I think you can play football.”
That was when he was in Grade 6. Now he’s a six-foot-two, 285-pound veteran of four years of Canadian football, who’s coming off a fantastic first season with the Golden Bears after transferring to Alberta from York University.
“From Grade 12 when I left high school saying I want to play professional football, there’s been ups and downs, but I’m this position now,” the defensive line prospect says. “In the grand scheme of things, everything worked out the way it should have.”
His mom still doesn’t get football. Boahen’s dad is more into soccer, which he played at a high level in his native Ghana. But they’re with him every step of the way.
“My parents don’t understand it, but even yesterday, my mom called me and told me, this weekend is going to be great, you’re going to do fine, and my dad texted me, he’s like ‘how is the program going?’” Boahen says.
“They don’t understand what I’m doing, I tried to explain to my mom last week, it took me ten times to explain the combine, but she’s like, ‘Okay, as long as you’re going to play football, I have no issues. I’m excited for you.’”