February 26, 2023

Tales From the Scouting Trail: Senior Bowl

It’s Day 1 here in Mobile, Alabama on Tuesday, February 1, and I wake up at 7:30 a.m. to get prepared for another day of practices at the Reese’s Senior Bowl.

After working through my morning routine, checking e-mails, and watching the film for a half hour, I meet our Assistant GM Danny McManus in the hotel lobby to grab breakfast. I ordered sausage and grits this morning — when in Alabama, after all.

Then around 9:45, Danny and I head over to the airport to pick up our General Manager Kyle Walters. While Kyle was supposed to arrive in Mobile on Monday night, even CFL GMs are not immune to delayed and cancelled flights. Meanwhile, Ted Goveia, our other Assistant GM, is busy on his annual west-coast swing, polishing up a batch of scouting reports on players attending the East-West Shrine game in Las Vegas.

After picking up Kyle from the airport, we head straight to practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama’s campus. Unlike the Hula Bowl that I attended a few weeks prior, there is no early morning weigh-in to attend here. Also, in slight contrast to the Hula Bowl, nearly all of the players attending the Senior Bowl will be in the NFL next year, with most being draft picks.

Among myriad college all-star events, this is the Big Kahuna.

However, as dedicated CFL fans know, many talented players around our league began their careers in the NFL before coming up North. Our job here is to get a feel for every player in attendance that fits our criteria, and project which players we may eventually have the opportunity to sign.

This year, in addition to the CFL scouts and coaches in attendance, there were four Canadian Nationals participating in the event, including the Brown twins – Chase, a running back and Sydney, a safety — from Illinois, offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse, and defensive end Tavius Robinson from Ole Miss. That quartet of Canadian studs receive an extra-long look from us, as we try to gauge the likelihood of them ever coming up north before the CFL Draft in May.

The first of two practices begin at 11:30, and the three members of our scouting crew on hand each find a strategic vantage point from which to watch practice. We try to focus on one position group at a time, comparing players to their peers and vigorously jotting down notes.

After two hours, the first practice is complete and there’s a 30-minute break where members of the media interview players and the new group begins to warm up. I realize two hours in that I’m starting to develop a sunburn from sitting in the hot Alabama sun, so I ask Danny for some sunscreen (leave it to the Floridian to always be prepared for dealing with the sun).

The second practice commences, and before I know it, it’s 4:30 and I’ve got several pages of notes filed in my notebook. Time flies when you’re doing what you love.

While Danny and I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and Kyle hasn’t ingested a single calorie all day, we head back first to the hotel in downtown Mobile so that Kyle can check in and we can all change clothes before heading to dinner.

After about 20 minutes of downtime at the hotel, the three of us walk a few blocks to grab some Alabama barbecue and talk shop. We discuss the standout performances from the day, delve into our latest CFL free agency plans, and briefly touch on our plans for the CFL draft while chowing down.

We notice late in our dinner that the restaurant we are eating at is hosting a bingo night, and decide, what the heck, let’s play a few rounds of bingo after we are done eating. About five minutes in, Kyle wins the second round of bingo we played. And with spirits high, we decide to head to the local watering hole, Veet’s, to network with some fellow scouts and coaches in attendance.

After a few drinks, several jokes, and a couple games of pool in the back corner with an assortment of friends working in the NFL, CFL and college football, we walk back to the hotel and get ready for the second day of practices.

Nights this fun on the road are rare, as typically during the season you’re on your own. With good company, good food, and good laughs, this day had a little bit of everything, and I’m happy to have this space to share it with the Bomber Nation!

Cyril Penn will be writing regularly for through the spring, providing an inside look at some of the American prospects the club will be bringing to training camp.