By: Lucas Uggenti

The Canadian Football League announced on Thursday, March 1 they would be hosting three regional combines to showcase some of the top talent that Canadian university football has to offer.

This is the sixth consecutive year the CFL is hosting this event, as it gives another opportunity for skilled players to demonstrate their abilities and earn an invitation to the CFL combine. The regional combine McMaster was invited to was held on March 9 in Toronto.

Despite a mediocre year that left the team with a lot to retool and improve upon, there were a few bright spots that McMaster can cling to this offseason. 10 Marauders were invited to this year’s regional combine, which is tied for the most in the country with the Laval Rouge et Or.

This came as no surprise, as McMaster did make a provincial semifinal appearance this season thanks to a very talented roster. Six players invited to the combine came from the Marauders’ defence, proving that the offence was not the only side of the field capable of impressing more than just their coaches.

This not only shines light on the talented players McMaster can produce, but it tells the truth behind a very good Marauders football program. Amongst the 10 Marauders selected to the regional combine, Eric Mezzalira garners the most attention.

Mezzalira was able to perfectly display his skills throughout the vigorous testing and earned himself a chance to impress CFL management at the national combine in Winnipeg over the March 24-25 weekend.

The Stoney Creek native started his playing career while attending Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School. But it was not until Grade 10 that Mezzalira knew he wanted to be a football star.

Eventually, as his high school career came to an end, Mezzalira was offered an opportunity to play for the Marauders and accepted it with open arms. After an injury-filled first season, Mezzalira’s opportunity at linebacker would have to wait one more year as he was designated to special teams — which ultimately proved to be highly beneficial.

“Special teams helped me improve my game defensively,” said Mezzalira. “That year on special teams helped complete my game as a player.”

Now finishing his fourth year of eligibility, Mezzalira is a regular starter for the Marauders and plays an important role in the locker room. Mezzalira’s experience and dedication to the football program has helped them take strides back into the winner’s circle.

“It’s a privilege to play on a football team,” Mezzalira said. “The culture our team created this year was different than the rest. It was team-oriented, and we showed up to work everyday. It’s a step in right direction for sure.”

Mezzalira was told about his invitation to the CFL regional combine via email. Despite early and mid-season rumors that lingered throughout the year, Mezzalira’s confidence never wavered. This came as a bit of a surprise to the linebacker, as he expected to skip the regional combine and enter the national combine directly. Regardless, he performed well enough in regionals to make it to the national combine.

“I’m not really nervous,” said Mezzalira. “I’m excited to have been invited but I’ve been training for this for over five months now. I’m feeling pretty confident and I’m excited to go out in nationals and go against some of the best talent.”

As far as the future is concerned, Mezzalira still has one more year left of eligibility in university football, barring any unfortunate news regarding his CFL status. Although never officially ruling out a return for his final year to play for the Marauders, Mezzalira hopes to be on a CFL roster at the start of the next football season.

“I am hoping to play in the CFL next season,” Mezzalira explained. “Getting drafted is one thing, but making the team is a whole different story. I’ve got a lot to learn at the linebacker position and I’m excited to have the opportunity.”

The CFL combine, set to begin on March 24, will have a series of tests that challenge both the mental and physical endurance of these athletes. Mezzalira hopes to showcase his physicality and impress CFL general managers at the combine, leaving a lasting impression that hopefully lands him a spot on a professional roster.

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