Canadian Football League

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Two Players-Two Dreams-Two Leagues- Canadian Football League- Arena Football League II

Former Western Mustangs quarterback Chris Hessel is getting a shot at the pros and so is the big fella who was his best blocker. Hessel, a 29-year-old Londoner who amassed most of the Mustangs' career passing records in his four years as the Ontario university team's starting pivot, has signed on with the Albany (New York) Conquest of the Arena Football League II, which opens its 2005 season next month.
Geoff St. Denis, an all-Canadian offensive guard who protected Hessel on pass plays and was lead block for many of tailback Randy McAuley's dazzling touchdown runs, signed a two-year deal with the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will try to win a roster spot at the team's training camp in three months.
"Training camp is 10 weeks away, not that I'm counting," said St. Denis, a Londoner and former Catholic Central high school star. "I had sent out my tapes to the contacts I had for the various teams. I didn't expect to hear back for a while. But about a week later . . . the phone rings and it's Brendan Taman, the general manager of the Blue Bombers. He told me they're interested and wanted to sign me."
Western head coach Larry Haylor feels both can stick if they make an impression in their respective camps.
"I always thought Chris would do well in the arena league because it's all about hanging in there in the pocket and being tough -- and Chris is very tough," he said. "Geoff is going to have to take it practice-by-practice and prove he deserves to stay. He'll be one of the fastest in camp and they'll give him a good look. The CFL isn't in a position to invite fodder these days. You're there if they think you're pretty good."
St. Denis, who played last fall at six-foot-two, 285 pounds, quickly gained 10 more pounds in the past two weeks, which he considers a necessity to measure up with the big-boy bulk in the CFL. He's working out every day with former Mustang Jason Congdon, who spent a couple of years as a long snapper with the Bombers.
"I've never had better workouts in my life than I have the past few weeks," St. Denis said. "We go to the gym and work extremely hard. I have this opportunity and I'm going to do everything I can to give myself a chance to make it."
The CFL chance marked an attitude shift for the 24-year-old St. Denis. He was a talented, yet cocky, player in college ball but he plans to let his blocking do the talking in Manitoba.
"I just want to keep my head down and work hard. In a way, I was kind of hoping there'd be no other Western players there," he said. "Then, I find out Winnipeg signed (former Western lineman) Mike Abou-Mechrek in the offseason from Ottawa. So I'll have a connection on the O-line there and I'll really feel like the rookie again after years of being the veteran telling the rookies what to do."
The Mustangs, who are entertaining potential recruits this weekend, had three players confirmed to participate in the Canadian university East-West Bowl all-star game at Waterloo in May.
Andy Fantuz, who missed last year's game with a hamstring injury, running back Randy McAuley and defensive lineman Tom Dolezel will take part in the game.


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