Canadian NFL prospect Auclair shines at Shrine Game, plans Pro Day

Check out Laval quarterback Hugo Richard find a leaping Antony Auclair for a Laval Touchdown.

• Antony Auclair impresses at Shrine Game

• Canadian tight end contacted by 25 NFL teams

• Pro Day on tap for Quebec City in the spring

Like any Canadian traveling to the U.S., Antony Auclair had to consider a few things when packing his cellphone for a recent week-long trip to Florida. How much would roaming charges set him back? Should he pack it and just keep it turned off? Should he leave it at home altogether?

He eventually decided to both bring and use it south of the border, which turned out to be a smart choice. That’s mainly how NFL teams — 25 of them – contacted him to set up meetings.

“It was on airplane mode for a while because it’s too expensive. Right now I’m not working, and in Canada we don’t have full scholarships — I pay all my expenses. But it was worth it [to turn it on],” Auclair says with a laugh.

Auclair, 23, just finished up a senior season at Laval in which he helped the Rouge et Or to a Vanier Cup. The tight end also generated enough buzz to get an invite to the annual East-West Shrine Game — a showcase opportunity for prospects looking to impress NFL scouts — held this year in St. Petersburg, Fla., from Jan. 15 to 21.

After a collegiate career in which he gained recognition for his combination of size and athleticism, Auclair knows what it’s like to be under the close eye of pro talent evaluators. One high-ranking NFL personnel man traveled to both Quebec City and Montreal in November to see the six-foot-five, 256-pounder for practice and in the Dunsmore Cup game. He played well under that scrutiny, then saved the best for last: He notched six catches for a team-high 70 yards and one touchdown in Laval’s Vanier Cup win.

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That said, it’s still easy to get lost in the shuffle at an event like the Shrine Game. And when Auclair first walked into the dining hall at the hotel on Sunday evening, with a name tag hanging from a lanyard around his neck, a lot of NFL teams passed right by him. While some scouts had studied film on the Canadian curio, others had yet to look into him.

But all that changed once practice began on Monday. Afterwards, he received several texts from NFL teams wanting to meet.

“Those same teams that passed by me before wanted to talk to me,” Auclair says.

A strong first day of practice laid the foundation for talent evaluators who were less familiar.

“The snowball affect happened where the interest took off,” agent Sasha Ghavami says. “It reminded me of when Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and David Onyemata attended the Shrine Game.”

The end result? Before the week started only one NFL team saw him as draftable. After it, many jumped on board. Now insiders say he has a much-improved shot in Duvernay-Tardif and Onyemata’s footsteps to jump straight from the Canadian university ranks to the NFL draft, and still has time to raise his profile further.

During conversations with NFL organizations, Auclair was asked if he played any other sports growing up, and he told them basketball. Then many scouts asked about hockey.

“I don’t even know how to skate. They were laughing and asked if I was a real Canadian,” Auclair says. “I told them when winter came I played football in the snow.”

One NFL scout who was familiar with Auclair considered him the best blocking tight end in the draft, including NCAA players. That’s a compliment, but the Notre-Dames-des-Pins, Que., native set out to prove his abilities as a complete player.

That began with Auclair completing mental testing, which included the wonderlic — 40 questions in 12 minutes — and drawing himself in helmet in shoulder pads and a detailed football field on an iPad.

In the week of practice leading up to the game, Auclair worked closely with both East team offensive coordinator and 10-year NFL running back Duce Staley and Baltimore Ravens tight ends coach, Richard Angulo. They had him learning two positions, tight end and H-back, and used him in-line, split out and moved around to various spots.

“They’re excited and they really want to see you succeed,” Auclair says. “They were high-tempo practices.”

Personnel men wanted to know that Auclair can be a route runner and catch the ball smoothly, and he showed that, consistently getting open throughout the week of practice. In the game itself he caught two passes for 21 yards, including an impressive run after the catch where he tried to hurdle a defender.

“I was coming with momentum. The corner was small so I thought he was going for my legs, but then he saw me try to jump and didn’t go as low as I thought,” Auclair explains. “The result was not quite what I was expecting.”

Even though the leap didn’t pay off with a broken tackle, it displayed Auclair’s athleticism. That’s a trait he’ll hope to prove he has in spades at Laval’s second consecutive Pro Day, which will be held either the week of March 12-18 or the first week in April.

Fortunately for Auclair, he’s already graduated from Laval with a Sports Science degree, which means he can focus on training for the event. One particular pro scout knows what he wants to see Auclair improve upon.

“My biggest question about Auclair in the NFL would be his explosion in order to release and get off the line of scrimmage,” the scout says. “But he’s a good-looking prospect.”

And thanks to both the impressions and connections made at the Shrine Game, Auclair can expect to be showcasing his skills in front of a good number of NFL scouts.

“All the American scouts said they love Toronto and Montreal, so I said, ‘Quebec City is better — you should come to my Pro Day,'” Auclair says with a chuckle.