Antonio Valvano hits the field. SUPPLIED

Vanier Cup winner enjoys CFL combine

Antonio Valvano’s disappointment at not being selected in last week’s Canadian Football League draft will be taken out on his Ontario University Athletics opponents.

“If anything, it has placed a mountain on my shoulder now,” the 24-year-old St. Catharines resident said. “I am only going to come back bigger, faster and stronger and the other guys in the OUA don’t know what is coming for them. It has placed a huge hunger inside of me, and I am ready to show that even though I didn’t get picked, these teams made a mistake and hopefully by next year, I will be in consideration to be picked to go to a CFL camp.”

The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder won’t soon forget his draft day experience.

“It was fun and a great day but I was nervous throughout the whole day and the outcome wasn’t what I was looking for. It was very disappointing and it is still eating away at me.”

His 2020 CFL adventure started at the league’s Ontario Draft Combine March 12 in Toronto.

“It was incredible and a great experience,” the St. Francis alumnus said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to have a combine because a lot of guys didn’t because of the pandemic. A couple of guys on my team didn’t get a chance to show off their skills and I was glad that I could.”

It would have been heartbreaking for Valvano if the combine had been postponed.

“The work that we put in for it was really long and tedious,” he said. “It takes a lot of mental toughness and it is a really big grind waking up at 6 AM every day to get to our lifts.

“It was great to be able to get out there and show off my skills and have the opportunity to experience part of the dream of trying to get to the next level.”

Valvano, who is primarily a blocking fullback at Western, considered it a huge compliment to be invited to the draft despite performing a role that rarely gets any media attention.

“Usually I am a blocker, but it was a good opportunity to show the part of my game that has been overlooked by a lot of people ever since high school, which is my pass-catching game and route-running abilities,” he said. “I feel it a very strong part of my game that teams can use at the next level and Western can use in the upcoming season.”

Because he is such an excellent blocker, the Western captain was rarely used in a pass-catching role. The one exception this past season was a 40-23 victory over Carleton, when he caught six passes for 55 yards and a TD. He was hoping that this game would be the start of getting more touches, but the coaches felt he was more valuable as a blocker.

The combine was an excellent learning experience.

“I realized how much hard work it takes and that you have to stick to what you know: working hard, persevering and training hard.”

I realized how much hard work it takes and that you have to stick to what you know: working hard, persevering and training hard

At no time did he feel like he didn’t belong at the combine.

“I was kind of nervous when I got there but at the end of the day, I told myself that I play for Western and I play against these guys all the time,” he said. “Our record shows that we win so in my head I was telling myself that I was better than the other guys. I go into every rep ready to beat up on them and never hold back.”

After consulting with his agent, Valvano decided a few days ago that he would return for fifth and final year of eligibility at Western.

“He told me all the options for CFL camps have passed now and Western is what I have to do if I want to keep this dream going.”

It will be his seventh year at the London university. He weighed more than 250 pounds when he first arrived at Western but he has lost some 40 pounds and has become much more of a complete player. He suits up on offence and special teams for the Mustangs

“The goal is to work on the areas that I need to improve on, come back bigger, faster and stronger and just have the best of my career and play every snap as if it is my last because it really could be,” Valvano said. “I don’t what will happen after this year but hopefully I have a really good year and CFL teams see that and are interested.”

To prepare for the upcoming season, he is working out with his father, Vince, and helping him out in his masonry business.

“Carrying bricks is a pretty good workout and good for my grip strength and everything.”

The 2017 Vanier Cup champion is hoping the pandemic will be under control enough for him to resume workouts at Western with his teammates.

He had applied to graduate this April with a double major in criminology and sociology.


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