The CFL draft is coming up [Jaime Stein, CFL.ca] this Sunday (noon Eastern, TSN). It's always an exciting time of the year, particularly from the perspective of watching CIS stars making the jump to the pros. To get you excited for it, here's an e-mail interview I just conducted with Shomari Williams, the Queen's defensive end who led the Gaels to the Vanier Cup this year and is ranked first overall by the CFL's scouting bureau. We talked about the CFL, CIS, the NCAA and his up-and-coming business helping recruits. My questions and his responses are below (slight edits for clarity).
Andrew Bucholtz: You've made a pretty meteoric rise up the CFL Scouting Bureau rankings, from #15 at the start of last season to #4 in December to #1 earlier this year. Do you pay any attention to the rankings, and if so, what did it feel like to take over the top spot?
Shomari Williams: It felt great being named the top prospect in Canada. I worked real hard all season and it was a great feeling to know that all my hard work paid off.
A.B.: With the draft coming up this weekend, there's a chance you could be selected first overall. Do you see the top spot as something special, the way it's usually viewed in the NFL, or does it not make as much of a difference in the CFL's smaller draft?
S.W.: I think this is a big deal. Even though the CFL is smaller than the NFL, only a select few people can ever say they were drafted and even fewer can say they were taken first overall. If I am picked first, it will be something special for me and my family to have my name in the record books as the number-one pick in the 2010 CFL draft.
A.B.: How do you feel about getting the chance to play in the CFL? Has it been something you've always been interested in, or a more recent goal?
S.W.: I feel truly blessed to have an opportunity to play in the CFL. When I first started college, I never had plans to play pro. My first goal was to get on the field and contribute to my team and go from there. As time went on in college, I started thinking about playing pro and coming back and going to Queen's really helped me in getting ready for a professional career.
A.B.: I understand you grew up in Brampton and then played in the NCAA at the University of Houston before coming to Queen's last year. Why did you choose that career path (high school to NCAA to CIS), and would you change anything if you had the chance to go back and do it again?
S.W.: Growing up, I just dreamed of playing in the NCAA. Watching it on TV made me fall in love with football in the States. Getting a scholarship and attending the University of Houston was a great experience for me. I graduated from Houston and I really wanted to play pro football, and I thought the best way to position myself for that was to come back and play for Queen's. I really don't like what-if scenarios, so I don't regret any of the choices I've made and I think all the experiences I've had has made me a better person.
A.B.: What did it mean to you to win the Vanier Cup in your only year of CIS football?
S.W.: Winning the Vanier made me feel like Carmelo Anthony! To come to a team for one year and have such a great season individually and team-wise, you couldn't ask for anything more. The 2010 Queen's Golden Gaels will go down in history as a championship team, and to be a part of that is something that I will never forget.
A.B.: How do NCAA and CIS football compare (calibre, coaching, atmosphere, practices, etc)? What did you like and dislike about each?
S.W.: Some things in the NCAA you can't compare to the CIS. It's just because the NCAA has so much money. The two things I think any football player is looking for when deciding on a program is the experience and the coaching. I had a wonderful experience and excellent coaching in my short time in the CIS and the playoff atmosphere was ridiculous too.
A.B.: Did you find it difficult to adapt to Canadian rules after your years in the NCAA? Which set of rules do you like better?
S.W.: To be honest, I barely noticed the rules. A few times, I lined up offside, but other than that, I really didn't notice the different rules.
A.B.: If you could change CIS however you wanted (at an organization-wide level, a football-wide level or just a Queen's level), what changes would you make?
S.W.: There are so many changes I think the CIS should implement to make the league better. To me, it has a great product, but we hear so little about it. I wish the CIS was run more like a business. To me, if the people involved had a greater stake in the success of the league, they would be more creative in how to expand and market the league.
A.B.: I understand you started Student Blitz (his recruiting business) in 2007. What gave you the idea, and how did you put it into practice? How many athletes have you worked with?
S.W.: Going through the recruiting process myself and seeing how much time and money it cost to send film to college coaches. I thought about ways to make the process more efficient for other players with time and money, so I created a database that allows you to send your film and athletic information to any NCAA coach. I've worked with about 15 athletes now and 70% of those athletes have received full scholarships, so I am happy with that.
A.B.: What are your future plans for the site?
S.W.: Right now, I am trying to get an investor and partner for the business so that he can run the day-to-day operations of the site. I am also excited about my new venture, TopProspects.ca, which should launch in May. This service will help high school athletes get recruited by CIS coaches.
Thanks to Shomari for taking the time to talk with me! Best of luck to him this Sunday. If you want to follow the draft, it will be televised on TSN starting at 12 p.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific. I'll also be following the B.C. Lions' Den's crew's live blog; it should be an excellent source of draft coverage too. I'll hopefully have a post-draft summary up Sunday afternoon at both Sporting Madness and The CIS Blog.
[Cross-posted to Sporting Madness]