Boseko Lokombo likes the idea of being a trendsetter.
Canadian Chase Claypool, a rookie receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has captivated NFL fans with his athleticism and big-play ability early this season. But the native of Abbotsford, B.C., is following a path established some 11 years ago by Lokombo, a fellow Abbotsford resident who Claypool lists as one of his childhood idols.
"It's pretty awesome," said Lokombo, a linebacker with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts who turned 30 on Thursday. "First of all I'm so happy for the young man with how he's playing and all he's doing in the NFL and how he continues to carry himself.
"It's obvious he's having a blast, he's balling, he's making plays for the Steelers. It's just awesome to see."
It's been a meteoric rise for Claypool, a 2020 second-round pick out of Notre Dame. The six-foot-four, 238-pound Claypool's first career catch was an acrobatic 28-yard grab in Pittsburgh's season-opening 26-16 win over the New York Giants.
The following week, Claypool registered an 84-yard TD catch — the longest touchdown from scrimmage in NFL history by a Canadian-born player — as Pittsburgh dispatched the Denver Broncos 26-21.
And then Sunday, Claypool scored four TDs (three catches, one rushing) to power unbeaten Pittsburgh (4-0) past the Philadelphia Eagles 38-29. Claypool could've had a fifth touchdown, but it was called back for offensive pass interference.
Hall of Famer Gale Sayers holds the NFL rookie record for most TDs in a game with six in 1965.
Like Claypool, Lokombo played high school football in Abbotsford before securing a scholarship at Oregon in 2009. Despite garnering NFL interest during his collegiate career, Lokombo was bypassed in the '14 draft and unsigned south of the border, beginning his pro career with the CFL's B.C. Lions (2014-16).
Lokombo headed to the NFL in 2017, spending time with the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers before rejoining the Lions in 2018. He signed as a free agent with Montreal in 2019 before being dealt to Toronto last January.
"I was one of those very blessed people coming out of Abbotsford to go to Oregon on a full scholarship," Lokombo said. "Around that time, not many people got the chance to play Division I coming out of Abbotsford . . . so it's pretty cool to be kind of like a trailblazer or trendsetter.
"But I really think Chase is opening doors down south for other Canadians."
Claypool was Notre Dame's leading receiver in 2019 with 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 TDs. But he really raised eyebrows at the NFL combine, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds, joining Calvin Johnson as the only receivers who stood at least six-foot-four and weighed at least 235 pounds to run under 4.45 seconds.
"I wasn't surprised with what he did at the combine because athletically he was gifted," Lokombo said. "He had that NFL-calibre physicality already, he just needed the coaching to go along with it.
"Now everybody is just getting a chance to see it. I'm really happy for him and pleased for him to call me one of his idols."
Lokombo said while he doesn't know Claypool on a personal level, the two talked during Claypool's high school days about life in the NCAA.
"He was a kid who was very interested and willing to learn," Lokombo said. "He had many questions but also had smarts about him.
"You could see he was a very intelligent guy who knows what he's talking about and wants to get better."
Lokombo said if Claypool felt the need to call him now, he'd readily accept another opportunity to speak with him.
"I'd be there with open arms," he said. "It's cool for me to see guys like Chase play in the NFL because we're not that far off in age and I'm still able to relate.
"I've been there and done that. I was a backup, I was a starter, I've even made it to the NFL . . . so I've had my time and had my experience. Where I am right now, I'm absolutely happy with life. I'm going into my seventh year in the CFL and still playing, still healthy. "
Another Abbotsford native keenly following Claypool is Dion Pellerin, a former Waterloo Warriors running back who was drafted this year by the Argonauts. The six-foot, 225-pound Pellerin attended W.J. Mouat Secondary School and played against Claypool's Abbotsford Senior Secondary squad.
"He was always a man playing against children," Pellerin said. "That man was built for football, both with his mind and physical stature.
"He's a football player through and through. What he's doing is amazing, he's showing Canadians actually have something to offer down south."
While they were high school rivals on the football field, Pellerin said he and Claypool would work out together. And he has no doubts about Claypool's ability to handle his early NFL success.
"I think it's something he's prepared for," Pellerin said. "Obviously he went to Notre Dame and I feel he did pretty well there.
"I think he's only going to do better than expected. He's built for it in my opinion, he's built for what's going on around him right now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct, 15, 2020
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press