If the aim of every great coach is to unlock a player’s full potential, then the Guelph Gryphons football coaches have four new reasons to celebrate.
Not only have three University of Guelph Gryphon players been selected in the CFL Draft, but for the first time ever, a former Guelph Gryphon has been drafted into the NFL (National Football League) as well.
Gryphon head coach Ryan Sheahan said it’s a moment of pride for his whole team.
“We’re always happy when our guys get a chance to play professionally the game that they love so much,” he said. “To have these guys go on to this kind of success, it’s just a great achievement and one we all get to celebrate.”
First Gryphon drafted to NFL
Last week, the Baltimore Ravens selected former Gryphon Tavius Robinson in the fourth round of the NFL draft, 124th overall. Robinson is the first Gryphon and first Guelph native to be called up to the NFL.
Former Gryphon football defensive line coach Brian Cluff couldn’t be happier to see it happen.
“Players like Tavius come along very rarely in a coach’s career,” said the now-retired Cluff. “It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow into the athlete and person that he is and to have been a small part of his success.”
Cluff has been following Robinson’s career almost from the start. Robinson played five years with the Guelph Collegiate and Vocational Institute (GCVI) football team where Cluff was a teacher and coach, and then two more with Cluff at U of G.
The 6’6 (1.98 metres) Robinson hails from an athletic family that includes his uncle, former CFL player Junior Robinson, and was always a standout, said Cluff.
“There is no question he’s a tremendously gifted athlete. But he also has all of the intangibles that are so important to athletics: a tremendous work ethic, he’s very coachable, and on top of that, just this intense drive and passion to be the best,” he said.
Keen to play for his hometown Gryphons when he arrived at U of G in 2018, Robinson earned a spot on the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) All-Rookie Team his first year and an OUA Second Team All-Star the next year, while excelling in landscape architecture studies.
Sheahan believes the coaching Robinson received at U of G helped pave the path for the young player to move to the University of Mississippi “Ole Miss” Rebels in 2020.
“Coach Cluff brought the better part of four decades of coaching experience, and Coach Dennis McPhee coached in the CFL for 16 years and the university ranks for 20 more,” said Sheahan.
“The fact that Tavius got to cross paths with these two before going down to Mississippi paid dividends for him.”
Three Gryphons drafted to CFL
The three other Gryphons moving onto pro careers include CFL-bound cornerback and U SPORTS first team all-star Siriman Bagayogo, who was selected in the second round by the B.C. Lions, 14th overall. The sport management major also received an invitation to the mini-camp of Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Kick returner and OUA all-star receiver Clark Barnes was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders in the third round, 24th overall, while offensive lineman Spencer Masterson was drafted by the Edmonton Elks 50th overall, in the sixth round.
A coaching team dedicated to transforming young players into athletes is another key role in their success, said Sheahan.
“We try to teach them the tactics and preparation as well as the mindset that’s needed on the field and in the off-season that gives them a chance to play at that the next level,” he said.
“We ask for a tremendous amount of buy-in and it pays off for athletes who work hard and thrive.”
Last week’s draft picks are proof Gryphon Football is producing strong recruits, he adds.
“We have consistently had three or four players a year drafted by the CFL, and I feel like all the things we’re doing – the programming we’ve put in place, the facilities we have, the coaching – are helping to attract the type of athlete who wants to be a part of that.”
Elite training facilities
Thanks to investment from U of G alumni, including former player and head coach Stu Lang, the team now has an elite facility at Alumni Stadium that features a football pavilion for tactical work and teaching as well as an Athletic Performance Centre providing high-level training and therapy,
“Guelph’s facilities are state-of-the-art,” said Cluff. “And you know they are because the Toronto Argos keep coming back here every summer for training camp.”
If one believes the football pundits, Robinson has a strong chance of making the Ravens’ 53-man roster. And when he finally takes to the field, Cluff said he will be watching.
“I’m excited and so proud of his accomplishments,” he said. “It’s a City of Guelph good-news story, and a Gryphon Football good-news story… It has been an honour to have had the opportunity to have a small impact.”