— This article was taken from bpssportsniagara.com, written by Bernie Puchalski. The original article can be found HERE —
Holy Cross graduate Mario Villamizar has been invited to attend a regional CFL draft combine in Toronto. Photos by PETER METHNER.
It’s a moment Mario Villamizar had been working towards for a long, long time.
In early January, the 24-year-old St. Catharines native received an e-mail inviting him to attend the Canadian Football League’s Ontario Regional Combine March 21 in Toronto.
“It was very surreal,” the Laurier fullback said. “You know that you are going because your coach has been told, but you are always sitting there refreshing your email about three times a day waiting to get the official letter.
“It’s kind of nerve wracking, but exciting at the same time.”
This past season, the Holy Cross graduate was named an Ontario University Athletics Second Team All-Star and the CFL combine invitation wasn’t unexpected.
“We, with my head coach, Michael Faulds, had a pretty good idea from the beginning that I was a bit of a shoo-in to get invited,” Villamizar said. “Some teams had been around and were asking what my eligibility was like.”
Knowing an invite was coming, the 6-foot-3. 237-pounder continued to train hard when Laurier’s season ended in November.
“There was a lot of time spent in the gym, maintaining my strength and trying to get stronger, but also a lot of time spent on the track, trying to get my 40 down, getting the proper mechanics to run and a lot of jumping because there is a broad jump and a vertical jump in the testing,” Villamizar said. “It has been a hard 16 weeks because the training has been ramped up.”
The former Niagara Spears travel player is planning to be himself at the regional combine.
“A lot of people tel me that I have been working hard for the last 16 weeks, but I feel like I have been working hard for the last four or five years if not the last 10 or 11 years,” he said. “At this point, it’s just being able to show that you can test well, move and you are strong enough to be at that level. Then, I have to go out there and do what got me to this point: Play football and be fast and smart.”
A glimpse at Villamizar’s stats don’t overwhelm you, but he has caught the eyes of CFL scouts by doing all the important things that don’t show up on the stats sheet. In four seasons, he has four touchdowns, 13 catches and seven tackles.
“I am more a blocking fullback in our team’s aspect at Laurier and my blocking is what has got me kind of that exposure because we have very good athletes here,” he said. “Also special teams is a huge aspect of the Canadian Football League game because there’s only three downs and specials are a quarter of the game.”
Villamizar has shown the ability to catch balls that are thrown to him, but he truly shines at special teams play.
“You don’t get stats for going down the field and blocking or holding a guy up on the line and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s all stuff that people see from film and from watching you.”
Villamizar takes a lot of pride in being recognized for doing all the little things that help his team win football games.
“I know what I need to work on and I know what I need to do to get better at those aspects, but seeing someone recognize that I do excel at those things is extremely rewarding.”
The top prospects from the three regional combines get invited to The CFL Combine presented by New Era March 22-24 in Toronto. There, they will compete in front of CFL coaches, general managers and player personnel.
Villamizar does have one year of eligibility left at the Laurier, but that is the last thing on his mind as he prepares for the combine.
“It has been my parents’ wish and dream to see me walk across the stage (at convocation), but with the CFL season starting so early in the summer, that’s when the complications occur,” he said. “For me, my plan is to do this as long as I can and play as long as I can — body permitting and team wanting me permitting — and once I’m all done, I will apply to graduate at that point.”
Villamizar believes that if he goes into the combine thinking about a Plan B, he won’t put his best foot forward.
“I want to do this 100 per cent and then later on in life I can worry about my career and all those things because this opportunity only comes around once in a lifetime,” he said. “I want to exploit it and do it as much as I can for as long as I can full steam ahead.”