Canadian Tyler Varga is eager to show he can do more than just run over people.
The 21-year-old Yale University running back will strut his stuff next week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, the annual showcase event for top NFL draft prospects. Varga will begin practising Tuesday with the North team — led by head coach Ken Whisenhunt of the Tennessee Titans — before suiting up Jan. 24 at Ladds-Peebles Stadium to face a South squad coached by Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The NFL Network will broadcast the game and daily practices, which will be conducted under the watchful eyes of NFL and CFL scouts, coaches and GMs. And the five-foot-11, 224-pound Varga definitely wants to give them something to talk about.
"Everybody labels me as a power back and inside-the-tackles runner but if given the opportunity I think I can do some work on the outside as well," Varga told The Canadian Press via telephone from Bradenton, Fla., where he's preparing for the Senior Bowl. "Even though I'm a big back I've got pretty good feet, I think I can surprise people with my speed.
"That's something I want to show."
Varga is just the second Yale player to be invited to the Senior Bowl. Offensive lineman Walter Clemens was the first in 1951.
"I'm really excited about it but I'm trying not to let my emotions get the best of me," Varga said. "It's a good opportunity to put Canadian football on display a bit and show we've got talented guys north of the border as well.
"I'm also very proud to represent my university because there hasn't been a Yale player go since 1951. But I think this also shows hard work doesn't go unnoticed. It's by no means an end, it's just the beginning, but it's nice to kind of get your foot in the door and see that your hard work has paid off."
Varga will have ample opportunity to impress. He said he'll practise at both tailback and fullback.
"I'm in a good position as far as getting a chance to display my skills because I'm going to be able to show I'm versatile," he said. "I think that plays to my advantage."
Varga, a Stockholm native who grew up in Kitchener, Ont., was dominant this senior season at Yale (8-2) with 1,423 yards rushing and a school-record 26 TDs. Twice he had five touchdowns in a game — including the winning three-yard score in a 49-43 overtime win over Army — and ran for a season-high 204 yards and two TDs in a 45-42 victory over Brown.
That secured Varga the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League's offensive player of the year and a first-team all-star nod. He also received second- and third-team All-American honours from The Sports Network and Beyond Sports Network, respectively.
The Senior Bowl kicks off a long and rather unique job interview for Varga that will include next month's NFL combine in Indianapolis, private workouts, pro days and player visits. Prospects will be poked, prodded, measured, timed, tested and interviewed repeatedly leading up to the '15 NFL draft, slated for April 30-May 2 in Chicago.
"Many people I've spoken to say it's the longest year of your life trying to prove yourself, get your feet wet and get noticed to hopefully stick with a team," Varga said. "But the approach is definitely taking things one day at a time and that's something I've been able to take away playing at Yale because the process was always a huge thing with our team.
"Instead of trying to look at the end goal all the time you have to look at what's next 200 feet in front of you. If you execute and dominate that 200 feet, then you can go on to the next 200 feet. If you're successful every step along the way you'll find yourself standing in the position you were hoping to be in at the beginning. It's really just one step at a time, not letting things or people distract you and working hard."
But being invited to the Senior Bowl is an important first step as 84 of the 110 players invited to last year's game were drafted. This season all 32 NFL teams visited Yale to see Varga, the fourth-leading rusher in school history (2,985 yards) who had 17 100-yard games and three 200-yard contests over his three seasons there.
Also of note, Varga had no fumbles among his 245 touches this season.
"All I'm asking for is a chance to show what I can do," Varga said. "I'm pretty confident if I do get a chance with a team they'll see what kind of a worker I am and the focus, dedication and passion I have for the game.
"I just need a look and I think I have the ability to make a good impression."
Varga began his college career at the University of Western Ontario and was named Canadian university football's top rookie in '11 before transferring to Yale.
"When I transferred I set some goals and I achieved them all," Varga said. "This year all the things that were accomplished I think were realistically in sight for me and my team at the beginning of the season.
"I was pretty confident in my abilities, I just had to go out there and basically execute and play like I know how . . . and we were able to have success from that."
But Varga prides himself in being a complete running back who can also catch passes and excel in pass protection.
"Our scheme was pretty complex in terms of pass-blocking responsibilities for the running back," Varga said. "I understood it very well which I think that gives me a little bit more of a head start . . . I had multiple reads in my pass-blocking assignments on any given passing play."
Not surprising, Varga is also coveted by the CFL. The league's scouting bureau ranked Varga fourth among the top-15 prospects for this year's draft and the first skill-position player after offensive linemen Brett Boyko (UNLV) and Alex Mateas (UConn) and defensive lineman Daryl Waud (Western).
Varga's top priority is playing in the NFL but he'd have no qualms plying his trade in the CFL. As a youngster, he even attended some Toronto Argonauts home games.
"I'd be more than happy to come back and play in Canada," he said. "That's a proud accomplishment as well.
"It's a great league to play in."
When Varga finishes playing football he won't necessarily be done as an athlete. He admits the idea of being an Olympic bobsledder — following in the footsteps of former CFL running back Jesse Lumsden — is intriguing.
"I'm someone who always needs something to work towards," he said. "Once my football career is over and if I've still got some juice left in the tank I might want to try something different and that would be kind of cool.
"I'll worry about that much later but it's something that's interesting, some fact to maybe throw out there."
What's much more definitive, though, is Varga pursuing a career as an orthopedic surgeon once his days as an athlete are over.
"At some point down the road I want to apply to medical school," he said. "But I won't try to do both at the same time.
"I'm the kind of guy that whatever I'm doing I want to do 100 per cent. I want to do it as well as I can."