As big a fan as Mike Zegunis has been of Dalton Schoen, the receiver’s former high school coach admits he wasn’t sure what the future would hold for his prized pass catcher after graduation.
“I think with his work ethic and his commitment to excellence, I’m not surprised by it. But I, probably like a lot of other people, didn’t see it coming. Didn’t expect it,” the former coach of Blue Valley Northwest, in Overland Park, Kansas, said over the phone this week.
“You always hope for good things to happen to good people. But I’ve coached long enough and been around enough athletes that I know what I might wish for and might want doesn’t always become reality. That’s why this is a really neat story.”
This year, the people of Winnipeg are discovering what those on campus at Kansas State University found out from 2016 to ’19 -- this unheralded football player is pretty good.
A walk-on at Kansas State, all Schoen did was lead the team in receptions in his final year while serving as team captain en route to a spot in the Liberty Bowl.
Now, after arriving in Winnipeg without any fanfare, Schoen is an integral piece for an 8-0 Blue Bombers squad. The six-foot-one, 218-pound Schoen is third in the league in receiving yards after hauling in eight catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a thrilling 35-28 win over the Calgary Stampeders last week. He now leads the CFL with six touchdown receptions.
“Dalton continues to defy the odds,” Zeguins said. “That’s the neatest thing about it. Always a hard worker and just an outstanding young man. The type of kid you always rooted for. You knew things were stacked against him to go play Division 1 football and to walk on is not an easy thing to do. To have the career he had at K State was really fun to watch. To be able to have the chance to play professional football is incredible as well.”
Because Schoen did not have blazing speed, Zeguins said it was tough for him to attract big-time college interest despite an outstanding high-school career -- he broke the Kansas high school record for receiving yards in a game with 380 in 2014 and was the 2015 Kansas City Star Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
While he may not be the fastest man on the field, he clearly knows how to get open – as he’s done throughout the year to help the Blue Bombers overcome some injuries at the receiver spot.
“Dalton right away from camp, you could tell there was something about him,” Bombers offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce said. “His college tape and some of his NFL work, we were excited to get him into the building. He took every rep in camp, played multiple spots, showed up in shape and hasn’t missed a beat. Very high football IQ. He’s getting better and better each week and understanding the CFL game and understanding how to play the receiver position. It’s been awesome to see.”
After a couple years in NFL camps or practice rosters with the Los Angeles Chargers, Washington and Kansas City, Schoen’s agent suggested he give the CFL a shot. Assistant general manager Danny McManus first took notice of Schoen on a visit to Chiefs camp and after his agent set him up for a phone call with the former CFL quarterback, the wheels were in motion.
Still, there were no guarantees.
“I was kind of just focusing on controlling what I can control,” said Schoen, who has a mechanical engineering degree. “Being as prepared as I could coming into each and every day. It’s hard when you’re coming into a training camp and you’re a rookie. You’re kind of shuffled to the bottom of the list. You can’t think too long-term or get caught up too much of where you are on the depth chart and stuff like that. The big thing is controlling my process and going about your work each and every day and just doing the best you can each day and let the chips fall where they may at the end.”
As Zach Collaros’ top target, Schoen appears to be the front-runner for CFL rookie of the year. Collaros, Schoen and Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Jaelon Acklin were named the CFL’s performers of the month for July this week.
Back home in Kansas, Zegunis loves what he’s seeing on social media.
“He could run away from kids in high school but I don’t think people thought he was going to be able to run away from guys in college. Obviously, he did. He proved them wrong. I’ve seen some Twitter clips of what he’s doing up there. He’s still running away from people and scoring touchdowns. It’s really fun to see.
What we liked in Week 8
• Another spectacular outing from B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke. The Canadian completed 27-of-33 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Saskatchewan.
• The Blue Bombers-Stampeders game. It was billed as the game of the year to date in the CFL and it delivered.
• The Ottawa Redblacks winning their first game of the season. So close in many games during an 0-6 start, the Redblacks were full marks for their 23-13 win in Toronto against the Argonauts.
What we didn’t like in Week 8
• The mess that is the Argos, even though they actually lead the East. Coaching, quarterbacking, the work of the front office … all of it looks less than stellar right now.
• The unfortunate ending to the Alouettes- Tiger-Cats game when concussion spotters ordered Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris to leave the field for the final play after he took a hard hit. It was the right decision, but nobody wants to see that happen. The Ticats intercepted Dominique Davis’ last-ditch pass in the end zone to preserve a 24-17 win.
Week 9 picks
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-5.5) at Montreal Alouettes, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
Short week for the Blue Bombers, who played Saturday night in Calgary and are on the road for a third game in a row. Also the opener of a home-and-home series. PICK: Winnipeg
Calgary Stampeders (-5.5) at Ottawa Redblacks, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
While the Redblacks have momentum after a win in Toronto, the Stampeders provide a much tougher level of competition. PICK: Calgary
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Toronto Argonauts (-2), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
This is the first of four games between the clubs in less than a month (the fourth game is the annual Labour Day showdown). Great rivalry, but spread it out a bit, CFL. PICK: Toronto
Edmonton Elks at B.C. Lions (-11.5), Saturday, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT
Elks GM / coach Chris Jones was busy shuffling his roster during the bye week. Lions crushed the Elks 59-15 In opening week in Vancouver, but Edmonton has been far more competitive since then. PICK: B.C.
2022 record: 16-15 after a 4-0 Week 8!
(Odds from FanDuel as of Wednesday)
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-0, last week: 1): Two-time defending Grey Cup champs hit the halfway mark on Thursday looking like the team to beat again.
2. B.C. Lions (5-1, last week: 2): Stormed back from a 17-4 deficit in Saskatchewan, one of the toughest venues for road teams.
3. Calgary Stampeders (4-2, last week: 3): Fought right to the bitter end against the Blue Bombers.
4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-5, last week: 6): 2-1 in last three weeks with lone loss a tight contest in B.C. Two-time reigning East champs could be turning the corner.
5. Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-4, last week: 5): Have lost three in a row, experiencing COVID, discipline and injury problems along the way. Good time for a bye.
6. Toronto Argonauts (3-3, last week: 4): Ugly loss at home to Ottawa has tightened things up in the East.
7. Ottawa Redblacks (1-6, last week: 9): Quarterback Caleb Evans was solid in Toronto as he continues to fill in for the injured Jeremiah Masoli.
8. Edmonton Elks (2-5, last week: 8): With the Roughriders slumping, a playoff spot doesn’t seem impossible for Edmonton.
9. Montreal Alouettes (2-5, last week: 7): Loss to Hamilton was costly as it allowed Ticats to climb ahead of Montreal (by virtue of tiebreaker) in the race for second in the CFL East.