Guelph Gryphons teammates prepared to battle at CFL combine
They've been longtime teammates at the University of Guelph, but receiver Clark Barnes and defensive back Siriman Bagayogo will be all business at the CFL combine.
Both players will attend the combine, which goes March 22-26 in Edmonton. They'll not only meet with CFL coaches, GMs and scouts but also participate in individual tests including the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, shuttle runs and bench press.
And like they've done many times at practice, Barnes and Bagayogo will be prepared to battle if they line up opposite one another.
"He's on my team and he's my guy, for sure, but it's not going to be any different because in practice we're competing for real and going 100 per cent trying to beat each other so we can get better," Barnes said Thursday during a CFL conference call. ""We're not going to take any offence to it, most definitely not.
"It doesn't really change at all."
Bagayogo couldn't agree more.
"I see it as a practice," he said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter.
"He's a good player, I'm a good player and it's up to us to get better."
CFL officials are certainly aware of both players,
The six-foot-three, 195-pound Bagayogo, of Bois-des-Filion, Que., was 11th on the CFL Scouting Bureau's winter edition of the top-20 prospects for the 23 draft. Barnes, a six-foot-two 193-pound Brampton, Ont., native was ranked No. 14.
Barnes will look to prove he's completely over the left high ankle sprain that limited him to just four games last season. He registered nine catches for 58 yards in 2022 after recording 29 receptions for 406 yards and five touchdowns in five contests the year before.
"The last time I was able to actually show myself as a player was '21 when I wasn't dealing with injuries," Barnes said. "So, it's been a while.
"It's just going out and showing the type of receiver I am now, which is a more complete receiver than people really think. I'm just going to show I'm fluid, I can run every route in the book and put it all together because I know I haven't been able to in a long time."
Barnes can do more than catch the football. He returned kickoffs for touchdowns in his first three games at Guelph in 2019.
That included a 100-yard return in the season opener against McMaster the first time Barnes got his hands on the ball in an OUA game. Over the next two years, Barnes had six returns for 142 yards and one TD as well as a 19-yard punt return.
"That (returning kicks) is something I'm looking forward to doing (in CFL)," Barnes said. "In and out of cuts, when I get the ball as a receiver showing what I can do after the catch is going to translate and, of course, show scouts and coaches what I can with the ball in my hands as a returner."
The '22 season was another stellar one for Bagayogo, who earned all-Canadian honours for a second straight year. He had 16 tackles (10 solo), one forced fumble, two pass breakups, one blocked punt in six games in 2022.
Barnes said facing Bagayogo each day in practice made him a better receiver.
"Siriman being a two-time, first-team all-Canadian at that boundary corner spot is the best we had to offer in U Sports," Barnes said. "With me being able to get that day in and day out at practice and having to go up against competition like that makes it so much easier to go out and do what I have to do on Sundays.
"He has size and strength and the ability to move like a small guy . . . it (practising against Bagayogo) helps a lot, definitely."
Bagayogo's accomplishments are even more impressive given he didn't play football growing up, instead participating in hockey, soccer and basketball. He took up the sport at Champlain College Lennoxville — which is a CEGEP — before heading to Guelph.
"Obviously it was hard, but I kept grinding," Bagayogo said. "That's what I do."
In fact, Bagayogo is currently working out in Florida and said despite his impressive resume, he's far from a finished product.
"I think I still have room for improvement," he said. "I think, at one point, it's all in the head., it's about how much knowledge you're able to get.
"Obviously there's a lot of stuff I don't know about football."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press