THE CANADIAN PRESS
Life, Shomari Williams says, is all about choices and when it comes to high school athletes, the more the merrier.
That’s why the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive end established Top Prospects Canada, a free recruiting service for Canadian high school basketball and football players that connects them with university and college coaches across Canada. Williams began the venture prior to training camp last summer and while initially concentrating on football as well as boys’ and girls’ basketball, he’d like to ultimately expand it to include all CIS sports.
"I’ve met a lot of kids who’ve told me schools around them are the only ones looking at them and yet they’re really good enough to go to any school," he said. "I want to open up doors for those kids."
The process is a surprisingly simple one. Interested athletes register online at topprospects.ca and create a profile as well as submit their own game tape or video. The submissions are then available to college and university coaches, who can also log in for free and watch them in the comfort of their office and begin the process of compiling information about potential recruits.
Williams said the service can boost an athlete’s profile nationally and give him or her more options regarding a post-secondary career.
"One of the things that really brought me to this was I don’t think you see that much national recruiting going on in the CIS, you don’t see as many kids getting to experience Canada," Williams said. "A few do but again, I don’t think it’s enough.
"For example, there are many great football players who don’t have as many opportunities because they might not be able to go to a school in their home province but there are definitely schools all across the country they can go to. Something like this helps schools recruit players while opening more doors for kids."
As well, Williams says he’s trying to promote CIS athletics to the young athletes.
"I want them to know you can stay in Canada and still have a great career, be very well coached and learn a lot," he said.
Danny Maciocia, a former CFL head coach and GM who is now the head football coach at the University of Montreal, says there’s definite value in Williams’s service.
"The more exposure these kids can get the better off everybody is," Maciocia said. "The more exposure you can give high school kids the more opportunity to be seen is a win-win proposition for everyone."
The database could give college and university coaches more bang for their recruiting dollar. Not only would they have a wider network of potential recruits but the availability of game video and personal information would allow them to compile their own scouting reports rather than relying on those from outside sources.
"It would be as if we hired someone to go down there and give us a scouting report on all these kids," Maciocia said. "Instead, we’d have access to it through a site so I think it’s awesome."
Williams is very familiar with the recruiting process.
The 26-year-old Toronto native was recruited by the University of Houston, University of South Florida, Rutgers, and UConn during his high school career, which he split between Brampton, Ont., and Lennoxville, Que. He ultimately settled upon Houston.
Williams finished his degree in entrepreneurship at Houston and transferred to Queen’s University after his junior season to pursue his education degree.
But the six-foot-one, 232-pound Williams made an immediate impact on the Gaels football squad, registering 32 tackles and four sacks in six regular-season games before adding 26 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks in four playoff contests.
He was named the MVP of the ’09 Mitchell Bowl after Queen’s upset top-ranked Laval 33-30 before capping his collegiate career by helping the Gaels defeat Calgary 33-31 in the Vanier Cup.
The Roughriders took note, taking Williams first overall in last year’s CFL Canadian college draft. Williams played mostly special teams with Saskatchewan but started two regular-season contests and dressed for the club’s two playoff games as well as its 21-18 Grey Cup loss to Montreal.
Williams got the idea of owning his own business at Houston but life in the CFL has allowed him to make it a reality as he plays. Unlike the NFL, there are no organized team activities or minicamps in the off-season, allowing players to establish a second career off the field.
"One of the great things about the CFL is you do have a chance to do a lot of other things with your spare time," Williams said. "You do have the opportunity to pursue a different career if you want.
"Fortunately for me, my passion is helping other people and giving back to the community and I can do that in the CFL and own my own business."
Then again, most CFL players have to prepare quickly for a life outside of football.
The average league salary is about $60,000 a year and the minimum this season will be $43,000. Given the average career lasts less than four years, many CFL players need an off-season job to not only supplement their income but also provide a fallback for once they’re finished playing.
Williams wants to ensure the service remain free for players and coaches alike. He’s also willing to help young athletes package their videos, again, for no charge.
And the service continues to evolve.
"Now kids can see which coaches have viewed their profiles," Williams said. "And coaches can use different criteria to look at kids they’re looking for.
"What I’d also like to try and do by the end of the summer is work with a few national scouts rank the top 100 football players across Canada. It’s now about growing the database and building awareness about it."
To that end, Williams has spent a lot of time speaking with football and basketball organizations about his service. And when it comes to the athletes, the best advice Williams can offer is it’s never too early for them to start thinking about college or university.
"Once you hit high school you have to start thinking about what you want to do with your university career," he said. "You have to start the process early.
"I’m hoping this program can get coaches to start recruiting kids earlier and maybe kids who are in the ninth grade can get to camps and be seen earlier."
Williams’ service does provide him with the opportunity to possibly become a player agent after football, although that’s not something he sees himself pursuing.
"My dream isn’t to become an agent," he said. "I really enjoy working with high school kids, that’s where my passion lies."