Five Canadians to watch in NCAA football this year

Ottawa's Neville Gallimore has a chance to be one of the best football players Canada has ever produced. (Photo Credit: Patrick Fife/Canada Prep Academy)

Fire up those Saturday night lights, another wild season of college football is almost upon us.

While Canadian sports fans are anticipating the start of the college basketball season to see some familiar faces in the NCAA, there should be some homegrown talent on the football field this fall as well. Here are some of the best frosh coming out of Canada in 2015:

Neville Gallimore, DL, Oklahoma

One of the highest-profile Canadian football prospects ever, expectations are sky-high for the gargantuan Gallimore as he begins his first season in Norman. The Ottawa native made a name for himself last fall at the Canada Prep Academy, a newly-established incubator for gridiron talent north of the border.

Gallimore honed his craft playing American football against U.S. high school powerhouses like De La Salle (Mich.) and Steubenville (Ohio) and stood out against the high-end competition. The exposure paid off when he became the first Canadian ever selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The 300-pounder has the other-worldly strength to disintegrate running lanes and shows enough speed and skill to project as an effective pass-rusher.

His collection of suitors was unprecedented for any Canadian since Tony Mandarich: Auburn, Florida, Miami (Fla.), Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, UCLA, West Virginia and Wisconsin all made scholarship offers to Gallimore before he jumped on board with Oklahoma.

There’s a gaping 300-pound vacancy at the forefront of the Sooner defence after Jordan Phillips was drafted by the Miami Dolphins this past spring, and Gallimore appears to be a prime candidate to jump right into the fray as a true freshman. Whether he starts or not, expect Gallimore to crack the Sooners’ defensive line rotation immediately.

Wesley Annan, DL, Stanford

Annan is a Whitby, Ont., native who crossed the border two years ago to prep at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, where he terrorized the Chicago Catholic League and burst onto the national recruiting radar. At six-foot-four and 280 pounds, he plays with a fantastic motor for his size, showing the finesse of a defensive end in a tackle’s body.

In addition to Stanford, he received offers from other academic powerhouse schools like Boston College, Brown, Duke and Harvard. Annan was also offered by Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Syracuse and Virginia.

Annan’s size and skill should make him a versatile player at the front of the Cardinal’s 3-4 defence, and head coach David Shaw has reportedly singled him out as one of two true freshmen likely to see significant playing time this fall. Joining a defence that allowed the second-fewest points per game and the third-fewest yards per game in the country last year, Annan should find an ideal situation to flourish on The Farm.

Jonathan Femi-Cole, RB, Minnesota

Another freakish athlete out of Vaughan, Ont., Femi-Cole literally ran away with the title of best Canadian high school running back in 2014, piling up 1,648 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games at St. Andrew’s College. The six-foot, 218-pound bruiser can deadlift 615 pounds and seems ideally suited for the throwback, run-first football that still rules the Big Ten.

He drew interest from Georgia, Miami (Fla.), Ohio State, USC and Wisconsin before accepting an offer to play for the Golden Gophers.

Femi-Cole is headed into a running back’s dream system in Minneapolis; the Gophers rarely even tried to establish a passing game last year, opting to run on a whopping 70.2 per cent of their plays from scrimmage. With workhorse David Cobb gone to the NFL, the RB1 job could be up for grabs and Femi-Cole’s frame makes him an ideal choice for Minnesota’s physical attack.

He may be slated for a redshirt this season, with burly senior Rodrick Williams likely to garner most of the carries, but another year spent bulking up could make the Canadian one of the Big Ten’s most intriguing freshmen in 2016.

Harper Sherman, OT, Arizona

The best offensive-line prospect to come out of Canada this year, New Westminster, B.C.’s Harper Sherman drew a ton of interest from the Pac-12 Conference during his recruitment. He received offers from Cal, Oregon State and Washington State before opting to join Rich Rodriguez’s warp-speed offence at Arizona.

The six-foot-four, 265-pounder was a fleet-footed tackle in high school and figures to play there in college as well, though he could conceivably add enough weight to make the move inside.

Sherman has already announced that he won’t arrive on campus until January, giving him another year to add size without losing eligibility. The Wildcats’ depth chart is littered with upperclassmen on the offensive line, so Sherman may not be expected to contribute significantly until at least 2017.

Hergy Mayala, WR, Connecticut

Mayala grew up in Montreal but finished his high school career at the Trinity-Pawling School in upstate New York. He has a good-sized frame for a young receiver at six-foot-one and 200 pounds. He’s not a burner but makes up for it with precise route-running, good hands and a knack for winning jump balls with his size and strength. Mayala turned down offers from Rutgers and Buffalo in favour of the Huskies.

With UConn’s top two receivers from 2014 gone, there should be an opportunity for Mayala to see the field right away. He’ll try to spark a program that’s coming off a 2-10 season and hasn’t had a winning campaign since 2010.

Others:
Two of Gallimore’s teammates at Canada Prep, running back Brady Oliveira and wide receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange, are headed south of the border as well. Oliveira, a Winnipeg native, will join North Dakota as one of four Canadians in their 2015 signing class, while the rangy six-foot-five O’Leary-Orange signed with the University of Nevada. Sherman’s high school teammate Matt Seymour, a six-foot-one receiver, is coming east to play for the Ohio University Bobcats.

And keep an eye out next year for B.C. receiver Chase Claypool, a four-star Notre Dame commitment, and DE Daniel Joseph, another four-star recruit committed to Penn State (like Annan, Joseph is a Toronto-area native playing at Lake Forest). Future beer baron J.J. Molson, a three-star kicker/punter from Montreal, has committed to UCLA’s 2016 class.