The state of Canadian talent seems to be on the rise at both the CFL and CIS levels, and we're seeing more and more elite Canadian players excelling at the high school level as well. The latest case in point is 18-year-old David Knevel, the 6'8'', 305-pound offensive tackle from Brantford's Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School, who Bob Mitchell of The Toronto Star profiled Friday. Knevel's received interest from almost 30 Division I schools, and what's really notable is some of the names on that list. In addition to smaller northern schools like Buffalo, Toledo and Washington State that have historically been willing to look to Canada, Knevel's also getting looks from the likes of Alabama, West Virginia and Missouri, teams that usually focus on recruiting the American south. [Update: Knevel chose Nebraska Tuesday, another traditional powerhouse.] He's seen interest from other notable schools as well, including Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa. As Knevel told Mitchell, that suggests top teams are becoming more open-minded towards Canadian talent:
"To receive 12 offers from colleges at a high level of football in America, coming straight out of Canada and never having taken steps elsewhere, is pretty surreal," said Knevel, who along with his twin brother, Michael, recently turned 18. "To be honest, it was hard to get the recognition. A lot of Canadian players could play Division I but they don't get the recognition. They're not American and they don't play against American talent.
"To make a statement that I can do this coming out of a Canadian high school doesn't mean I'm paving the road because other people have done it but it says, hey, we can play football up here. We're not the North Pole."
What's particularly interesting is that Knevel cites this summer's IFAF U-19 tournament in Austin, Texas as a key turning point in his recruitment. Before that, he'd only received two offers; after the Canadian team (led by Noel Thorpe, who was hired as the Montreal Alouettes' defensive coordinator this month) pulled off a shocking 23-19 upset win over the Americans in that final, plenty of schools came calling for Knevel. That demonstrates the importance of putting together strong, well-coached Canadian teams for these kinds of events; the impressive performance this past summer not only boosted Canadian pride, but also opened numerous doors for players like Knevel. Here's an IMG video of him in action:
Should fans of the CIS game be worried that more NCAA schools are looking north of the border? From this corner, the answer for the moment is "not really". Top Canadian prospects like Knevel (who's rated a three-star prospect by Rivals) have been winding up at NCAA schools for decades; the main difference now is the calibre of school that's interested, and that could be extremely positive for developing players like him for the CFL. (For example, the top-ranked prospect for this year's Canadian draft, linebacker Bo Lokombo, plays at Oregon, another NCAA powerhouse.) That could mean that more guys further down the talent chain wind up at smaller NCAA schools instead of CIS ones, and that could be worrying for CIS fans, but it's worth noting that the Canadian talent pool in general seems to be expanding. Better high school and club instruction has helped produce more top Canadian talents across the board, and plenty of them will be staying north of the border. The main takeaway from the Knevel story is that more Canadian high school players may soon have more college options; that hardly seems like a bad thing.