TORONTO -- Wilfrid Laurier offensive lineman Michael Knill set the bar high at the CFL Evaluation Camp’s first event Saturday morning, bench pressing 225 lbs. 47 times to set a CFL E-Camp record.
Knill’s former teammate at Laurier Mike Montoya held the previous record of 40 repetitions which he set at last year's camp.
The CFL's annual Evaluation Camp presented by Reebok brings together the top draft-eligible prospects in the country to showcase their physical and football skills for coaches, executives and scouts from around the league.
“I would have liked to have gotten 50, but I’m pretty happy with 47,” the six-foot-six, 350-pounder said. “My goal was definitely to break Mike’s record so I’m happy with that.”
Knill, a trained power lifter, was the first to go on the day and none of the offensive linemen after him came close to matching his mark.
For his part, Knill said he didn’t mind the pressure of going first or lifting in front of a packed house of CFL scouts and talent evaluators.
“30, 40 people watching me bench is nothing new. That’s a typical Monday at my gym,” Knill said. “I feel like I’m actually more nervous when I do it at my gym. This wasn’t so bad.”
Western’s Brandon Dunn had the second best result of the offensive linemen, lifting the 225 lbs 24 times. Anthony Barrette of Concordia, Alexander Krausnick-Groh of Calgary and Sebastien Tache of Montreal all had 22 repetitions.
The next group to tackle the bench press were the defensive linemen with the University of Alberta’s Craig Gerbrandt setting the second highest mark of the day with 30 reps.
The six-foot-two, 260-pound Gerbrandt said his personal best was 30 but he was still happy with the result.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure up there but I feel really good with my number. It’s right around where I wanted to be so that’s a positive way to start the weekend,” Gerbrandt said.
Gerbrandt was closely followed by Montreal defensive lineman Gregory Alexandre who had 26 reps and was excruciatingly close to 27 but couldn’t finish his last lift.
“I should have gotten 27, but I didn’t lock it. Still, I feel pretty good with 26,” Alexandre, who said his goal was 27 or 28, said. “With everybody looking you just have to stay focused and do the most you can until your body gives out.”
With the first of his five tests out of the way, Alexandre said he was especially looking forward to Sunday’s one-on-ones drills at the Varsity Dome on the University of Toronto campus.
“I’m targeting the one-on-ones as something to do really well on,” Alexandre said. “I think that would really help me heading into the draft.”
Mathieu Boulay of Bishop’s lifted the 225 lbs 25 times, while Dan Cordick of Eastern Michigan reached 22.
QBs and Kickers
After the biggest E-Camp invitees had their chance it was the quarterbacks turn to hit the bench. The bench press certainly isn’t the most important element of the CFL E-Camp weekend for the QBs, but both Canadian pivots put up good numbers Saturday, with Regina’s Marc Mueller putting up 14 and Ottawa’s Brad Sinopoli lifting 10.
“I’m happy. It’s been tough for me to improve my bench, but ten is a good number for me,” said Sinopoli, whose personal goal was 12.
Mueller’s 14 reps were actually a personal best, a plateau he had never been able to reach in training.
For Mueller, testing in front of scouts and having dozens of eyes on him is exactly where he wants to be.
“If you’re going to play in the game you’ve gotta be able to do stuff like this. This is nothing compared to playing in the stadium,” Mueller said.
Both quarterbacks said they were most looking forward to strapping on the pads Sunday and finally getting a chance to throw the football in front of CFL scouts.
“If I can come out and compete well, hopefully I can get a chance,” Mueller said. “The adrenaline, all the eyes watching you — you’ve got to love that.”
Alberta kicker Hugh O'Neill went with the quarterbacks group and put up six repetitions. Laval's Christopher Milo did not participate.
Running Backs and Linebackers
As they would on the field, the running backs followed behind the quarter backs during Saturday’s bench press testing, with Kyle Exume of Bishop’s setting the pace with 23 reps. Calgary’s Matt Walter was close behind him with 19, while Edem Nyamadi scored a 15 and Carl Volny did not participate due to an injured shoulder.
For Walter, the 19 lifts were a personal best, something the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back expected coming into the weekend.
“The way we’ve been training out in Calgary has been working towards peaking. Everything we’ve done for the last three months is for this moment,” Walter said.
Walter was aiming for 20 reps, but with a solid 19 and four more tests still to come, the Calgary native has put himself in a good position heading into the rest of the weekend.
“I’m definitely happy with my performance. I want to try to be above the curve for running backs. I’m hoping I can keep that up. My big test is going to be tomorrow at the 40, I want to come out on top,” Walter said.
The linebackers, meanwhile, were paced by Henoc Muamba who hit 25.
Muamba, ranked tenth on the CFL scouting bureau, was the only linebacker to break the 20-repitition threshold, with his closest competition coming from Saskatchewan’s Peter Thiel who raised the bar 18 times.
“I dream big so I was hoping for 30,” Muamba said. “But I’m satisfied. I’m my own worst critic so I obviously wish I had performed better. But I’m definitely proud of the number.”
Western linbebacker John Surla ended up with a disappointing 12. The subject of this weekend’s CFL documentary was aiming for 15, but said he started tiring out around his tenth repetition.
Surla will look to rebound on Sunday when the players finally get to strap on the pads and participate in one-on-one drills.
“That’s where I’m going to make my money. I’m a football player,” Surla said. “I like being on the field, those are the types of things I excel at.”
DBs and Receivers
The 40-yard dash is usually the test of choice for the wide receivers who won’t put up the most impressive numbers during the bench press. Unless, of course, your name is Marco Iannuzzi who put up a strong 21 repetitions.
And if you weren’t there to watch Iannuzzi lift, you certainly heard him as he brought the day’s noisiest session. It’s the result of a breathing technique that the Harvard student uses to improve his performance.
“It tightens up your core and your hips and your spine so you can transfer all your energy,” Iannuzzi said. “At Harvard we really focus on developing our minds to defeat these events. It really worked out well for me.”
Calgary’s Anthony Parker came in second with 18, while Braeden George of Saskatchewan had 17 with Guelph’s Jedd Gardner barking at his tail with 16.
“I thought I was going to get a little bit more, I thought I was going to get 18 or 20,” Gardner said. “It’s a little different bar and it’s a little intimidating with everybody around and the cameras. But I was still happy with 16.”
Gardner, like most of the wide receivers, are simply biding their time until Sunday’s 40-yard dash when they can really show their skill.
“That’s been the focus for most of the off season. Everyone wants to compete and wants to be better than everyone else at every test,” Gardner said. “Even if it was skipping, we still want to compete at the highest level just because we’re all competitive and that’s the kind of guys we are.”
Finishing off a long morning for the E-Camp participants were the defensive backs who were paced by roommates Michael Miller and Daryl Townsend who each pushed up the 225 lbs 17 times.
Despite leading their group, both players felt they could have done better.
“I was hoping to get 20. I thought the adrenaline would carry me there but it didn’t quite,” Miller said. “Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you don’t. It’s a little bit more nerve wracking when there’s CFL eyes staring at you.”
Townsend, a six-foot-one, 190-pounder from Windsor, was usually getting 18 when he was training. He’ll take his 17, however, and start getting ready for the rest of the weekend.
“I always want to reach higher but I think it went well. I got the top so I guess I can’t be too mad,” Townsend said. “I’m happy but there’s still more event to go and more work to do. This is just a stepping stone. It’s a first step.”