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CFL  

Wilfrid Laurier's Luke Brubacher impressing despite limited football experience

WATERLOO, ONTARIO — As Wilfrid Laurier's head football coach, Michael Faulds has seen many walk-ons.

But never one like Luke Brubacher.

The six-foot-six, 255-pound defensive end's introduction to football came in 2021 with the Golden Hawks after he sent Faulds an email requesting a tryout. 

Three years later, the former amateur boxer from Listowel, Ont., is projected as an early selection in the '24 CFL draft on April 30.

With the global pandemic forcing the cancellation of the '20 season, Faulds said Brubacher's timing was ideal.

"Unfortunately, Luke didn't have film but when he mentioned his height and weight and that he had a boxing background, suddenly you look at those measurables and are like, 'Wow, let's at least take a shot at this.'

"COVID was a perfect time to be patient because we had no season, so the stars kind of aligned for him to put on a helmet and shoulder pads for the very first time."

Brubacher, a kinesiology student, never played football because his high school didn't have a program. So he participated in hockey, basketball and soccer before pursuing boxing.

"Football was something I thought I'd be good at because I was always kind of a little rough in the sports I played," he said. "I certainly got knocked on my rear a time or two in training camp and my first few games because everything was happening so quickly in front of me.

"Guys always talk about how big of a jump it is from high school to university, so obviously going from nothing to university was crazy. But my goal coming in was to be respected by my teammates and the guys around me. I wanted to show I was a hard worker and someone who could at least compete and just go from there."

Brubacher not only made the squad in 2021 but quickly became a starter. Over three seasons, he registered 61 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 12 sacks, with a team-high six coming last year.

Brubacher said boxing helped him transition to football.

"Boxing requires a lot of co-ordination with your hands and feet and as a D-lineman that's about 90 per cent of what the position is," he said. "In boxing, it's just you in a ring against someone who wants to knock you out . . . I don't think it can get scarier than that, honestly.

"Going into a football game I'm pretty comfortable and relaxed because I got used to dealing with my nerves."

Suffice to say, Brubacher exceeded expectations at Laurier.

"I'd say with all of our walk-ons, we have very little expectations," Faulds said. "It's one of those things where if it works out, amazing, but if it doesn't we'll just part ways at some point in the process.

"But in his case, it's an extreme with how well Luke has done."

Despite undergoing shoulder surgery in December, Brubacher participated in the CFL national combine earlier this month in Winnipeg. He wasn't medically cleared for the 225-pound bench press but impressed with a 40-yard dash time of 4.69 seconds, 38-inch vertical, 10 foot six inch broad jump, 7.06-second three cone and 4.34-second shuttle.

Impressive, considering much of Brubacher's combine preparation came with one arm in a sling.

"At this point, everything is kind of out of my hands so I try not to think or worry about (CFL draft)," he said. "Before the combine, there certainly was a lot of anxiety . . . there were a few days where I was nervous and unsure if I'd be ready but I put in a lot of extra hours in the gym and physio room to get to where I had to be."

TSN football analyst Jim Barker, a five-time Grey Cup champion as a CFL coach and executive, feels Brubacher is in a good spot.

"He's a big body who can play special teams and when you're a big body who can play special teams, there's always a spot for you," Barker said. "Now, will he develop into being Robbie Smith (former Laurier defensive lineman currently with the Toronto Argonauts) and become an effective edge guy? That's up to him. But he's going to get the opportunity, I can promise you, because guys like him don't grow on trees.

"If he devotes himself to being a football player, within a short time he'll be like Mathieu Betts looking for an NFL offer. He hasn't even scratched the surface yet."

Betts was the CFL's top defensive player last season. The former B.C. Lions defensive end signed this off-season with the NFL's Detroit Lions.

Brubacher says the club drafting him will get a player who can make the jump to the pro ranks and will work hard.

"I'll be someone they're never going to have to worry about because I'm going to put in the work and check off boxes every day and when I get on the field," he said. "I play hard and fast and have that intensity from beginning to end every game.

"I know it (jump to CFL) will be big but I have a lot of confidence in myself knowing I went from nothing to playing at the university level. I'm a fast learner and although at times I know it will be a tough process, I feel I'll adjust pretty quickly."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.



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