From starting as a walk-on at Kansas State University to putting together a Most Outstanding Rookie-worthy season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, wide receiver Dalton Schoen has turned heads during his inaugural season in the Canadian Football League.
Born and raised in Overland Park, Kansas, Schoen’s journey to becoming one of the most dominant wide receivers in the CFL started at his local Blue Valley Northwest High School. His talents saw him garner attention from prestigious Ivy League academic institutions such as Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the United States Air Force Academy, according to Rivals.com. Though, there was only one place he wanted to be, even if it meant earning a roster spot and working his way up.
"I just wanted to be at K-State so bad. I think it's a really important part of my story," the 25-year-old Schoen told TSN. "I grew up a huge K-State fan and both my parents went there, all my aunts and uncles, my older brother, older sister; everyone had gone there. I looked at a lot of different places in recruiting, but it meant the world to me to get that walk-on spot at K-State and, obviously, it didn't take much for me to buy into the program."
Schoen spent his entire collegiate career with the Wildcats, starting as a redshirt freshman in 2015. The following 2016 season, Schoen pulled on the Wildcats' iconic purple and white uniform against Florida Atlantic University, marking the start of his goal to get better and make an impact on the program.
"I think as far as my career goes, something coach (Bill) Snyder, who was my coach when I got there, said – legendary coach – he would always talk about intentional improvement. If you can just get a little bit better each and every day and be intentional about it. Eventually all those little improvements stack up, and you'll look back over two years and you've come a long way."
"That was me to a T, said Schoen harking back to where he started on the depth chart versus where he finished.
"After two years of being there and not seeing the field at all, I had worked so hard to improve myself as a player. And I got a little fortunate with circumstances and opportunities based on other people getting hurt and not knowing what they're doing, stuff like that. (I) found a way to get on the field and ended up starting my last three years, being a team captain.
When the clock expired on Schoen's time as a Wildcat, the walk-on turned starter finished his collegiate career ranked seventh in school history in yards per reception (17.05) and 15th in receiving yards (1,568).
Though Schoen put together an impressive final season with the Wildcats, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound receiver went undrafted. Schoen later was later signed by the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020, but was released following training camp.
In 2021, Schoen signed with his hometown Kansas City Chiefs and ended with the Washington Football Team. He admitted the struggles of having come so close but being so far from making the NFL.
"It's tough," said Schoen. "I think for me, I felt like I had a really good pro day at K-State after my senior season was over and that's where I ended up getting a look from the Chargers, getting signed by them as an undrafted free agent. My agent was super happy about it, I was super happy about it. We thought it was a great situation. Unfortunately, that was the year of COVID. (I) didn't have a lot of opportunity, didn't have a lot of off-season work and stuff like that. (I) ended up leaving that training camp that fall feeling like I did a lot of good things, just never really got a good opportunity.
"It's always hard the first time you get cut from an NFL team like that, said Schoen on being released from the Chargers.
“It just kind of feels like, 'oh, that was the end of it,' but luckily, (I) got other opportunities. (I) spent the next off-season and training camp with the Chiefs – my hometown team – that was kind of a dream come true. I felt that I did a lot of good things there, too, but didn't do enough to make the team, obviously. (I) spent some time in Washington with the Football Team, spent a week back with Chiefs on practice squad... at the end of the day, I have been cut four times by NFL teams and it never gets any easier, but I learned a lot in the process."
Having been cut numerous times by the NFL and not being presented with another opportunity to step inside a team facility, Schoen decided to turn his attention to the CFL in hopes of keeping his dream of playing professional football alive.
"Last spring was when my agent first started floating the idea of the CFL to me and that's when I started doing some research on it and thinking about it, talking about it with my family. For me, once I saw that Winnipeg was back-to-back Grey Cup champs, you're like, 'okay, this is the best team in the league,' this is the team I'd like to be a part of."
Another determining factor in Schoen's choice to take his talents north was the similarities that Winnipeg drew with Kansas.
"I also saw how much fans here care and that meant the world to me because coming from K-State, our fan base cared about us no matter how good or bad the team was so those were big into in making me want to be a part of a great team like this."
When it was time to pack up his bags and embark on the 12-hour drive from Kansas to his new home, Schoen noted the conflicting feelings he was overwhelmed with while on the road.
"The whole time I'm thinking, 'what am I getting myself into? I've never been to Canada, I don't know a whole lot about the league.' It wasn't till two or three weeks before when I got the playbook that I learned there was 12 guys on the field and the field was 65 yards wide."
Though Schoen got off to a slow start, not seeing his first 100-yard game till Week 5, he has quickly become an offensive threat. Though 16 weeks of the CFL season, Schoen leads the Bombers in every statistical category with 988 yards, 218 yards after the catch, 18.6 yards per catch, holds the longest reception of 81 yards on the season all while tied with BC Lions receiver Dominique Rhymes in touchdowns (10), all of which he believes is due to the organizational culture of the Bombers (12-2), who host the Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday night on TSN.
"I knew the second I met a couple of the veterans that the culture here is different than you see from a lot of professional programs," said Schoen. "You see guys here who truly care about each other and truly want to see each other succeed and want to just see the team succeed over their individual achievements and that to me is really rare...I think it's a credit to Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea), the coaches, and the scouting department for getting the right guys here in the door. As a whole organization, I just think the culture here is special."
When it comes to the personal accolades and the topic of how it would feel to be named the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie, Schoen says it isn't something he's thought about as he always put the team ahead of himself.
"I think an achievement like it, that means a lot in hindsight – I think it's something that's really cool – but honestly, it's not really something I've thought about right now in the moment. I think from the moment I walked on at K-State, I've always had one goal and that's to make my team better and do whatever I can to help the team succeed. And so I've always said whether that's me blocking, whether that's me playing special teams, whether I'm fortunate to be the one catching the pass, I want to do whatever I can do to help my team win."
"And if I get awarded something like that, that is really special but I think, more than anything, too, it's a testament to the guys around me how this team has embraced me and made it easy for me to succeed up here."