Mathieu Betts is about to learn where his pro football career will begin.
The NFL will complete its annual draft with the final four rounds Saturday. The Laval Rouge et Or defensive lineman is expected to be a late selection or signed afterward as a priority free agent.
Either way, all the six-foot-three, 254-pound Montreal native wants is a chance to compete for an NFL roster spot.
"The important thing for me is to get an opportunity," Betts said. "Whether it’s being drafted or after the draft, the thing I wish for myself is to get a first-year contract from the team that plans to develop me either on defence or special teams.
"I just want to be able to contribute as fast as possible. I want to be able to learn with a good franchise, good coaching and good players. Obviously playing Canadian football there are a few differences so I’d hope for a team that’s patient with me to make that transition, which I think would be short."
Betts impressed NFL officials at the East-West Shrine Game in Florida in January, then put up some solid numbers at Laval’s pro day in March in Quebec City. With representatives from the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in attendance, Betts posted 23 reps in the bench press, a 29.5-inch vertical leap, a 40-yard dash time of 4.70 seconds, a 4.28-second shuttle, a 6.77-second three-cone and broad jump of nine feet nine inches.
But Betts can also play football. The 24-year-old is the first player ever to win the J.P. Metras Trophy as Canadian university football’s top lineman three straight years (2016-18) and was named U Sports’ top rookie in 2015.
Betts had a U Sports-leading nine sacks last year in just six games and posted 35.5 sacks over his collegiate career, the most ever in the Quebec conference. Most importantly, Betts capped his U Sports career helping Laval win the Vanier Cup, his second national championship with the Rouge et Or.
The draft ends a tense and often hectic four-month stretch for prospects. Many have been poked and prodded by teams hoping to find potential gems or diamonds in the rough.
While Betts is interested to see where he might end up , he isn’t feeling any sense of anxiousness.
"I don’t know if it’s the hardest (job interview) you can go through,"he said. "I’d actually say it’s fun … just working out, obviously getting to know some of the coaches who want to get to know me or scout me.
"I wouldn’t say it’s the same but I’d kind of compare it to getting recruited for college, I think it’s that kind of a deal, really."
However, Betts readily admits being so close to a pro football career hasn’t quite set in with him yet.
"I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, a lot of scouts and obviously it’s exciting," he said. "But I think it will feel more real when I get to camp and meet some of my new teammates.
"It will be the end of a chapter at Laval and the beginning of hopefully a new, fun story with whatever team I might get with this weekend."
Betts has also had the benefit of a solid mentor during his off-season preparations. Former Laval teammate Antony Auclair broke into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and is entering his third season with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Betts said he’s been sure to bend Auclair’s ear a lot leading up to the draft.
"Obviously, he has set the bar high for many of us," Betts said. "It’s reassuring just to know someone went through the same process.
"He’s given me a lot of good advice even before the Shrine game."
Betts’ pro football future doesn’t rest solely with the NFL. He finished the year atop the CFL scouting bureau’s final list of the top-20 prospects for Thursday’s draft. If things don’t pan out south of the border, Betts will have a definite shot at playing professionally in Canada.
"It is reassuring," he said. "For me, the objective is football next season, whether it’s the NFL or CFL.
"I don’t take anything for granted. I know I finished high on the scouting bureau for the CFL … but it’s not a done deal for either the NFL or CFL. The main focus for me right now is to get in shape for training camp."
Regardless of where pro football leads Betts, he said his time at Laval has prepared him well for whatever lies ahead.
"It’s helped me many ways, starting with the focus that’s put on everything we had to do from watching film to the seriousness we put on our conditioning," he said. "And just to be a better person who’s ready to face whatever challenges are ahead, whether it’s pro football or whatever career you want to pursue."