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Canadian receivers making their mark early this CFL season


On Thursday night, Montreal Alouettes receivers Tyson Philpot and Kaion Julien-Grant combined for 16 catches, 266 yards, and a touchdown to lead the team to a 47-21 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.

Philpot is from Delta, B.C., and played U Sports football for the Calgary Dinos. Julien-Grant is from Toronto and played for the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. 

The two budding stars are part of a deep crop of Canadians making an impact early this CFL season at wide receiver, a position that has traditionally been dominated by Americans. 

“I follow the other receivers in the league and I’m very proud to be a Canadian and making an impact,” Philpot told TSN this week.

Three of the league’s top six receiving yards leaders are Canadians in Philpot, Justin McInnis (BC Lions), and Kian Schaffer-Baker (Saskatchewan Roughriders).

Canadians Kurleigh Gittens, Jr. (Edmonton Elks), Clark Barnes (Calgary Stampeders), Jalen Philpot (Calgary Stampeders), Nic Demski (Winnipeg Blue Bombers), and Ajou Ajou (Saskatchewan Roughriders) have also made significant contributions for their clubs. 

TSN football analyst Milt Stegall, a Cincinnati native who arrived in the CFL in 1995 and went on to a Canadian Football Hall of Fame career as a wideout with the Blue Bombers, said he’s seen the shift coming for years as teams use more Canadians at the skill position.

“We’re seeing a transition where guys are starting to say, ‘I’m not just a great Canadian receiver, I’m a great receiver,’” Stegall said. “And they’re going out there and proving it.”

Stegall said that at the start of his career, Canadian receivers would sometimes be on the field only because of the CFL’s ratio rules. They were rarely the primary target for the quarterback, lined up on the far side of the field and rarely involved in plays.

“You very rarely saw that Canadian receiver who was just a dawg on a team,” he said. “There were a few, but for the most part, it was all American receivers.”

Philpot grew up watching the CFL and remembers those days when impactful Canadian receivers were rare.

“Back in the day, they used to say, ‘Just a ratio receiver,’ or, ‘Someone to just help the ratio,’ and just hide them on the roster” he said, referring to a common stigma associated with Canadians.
“[Canadian receivers] are now definitely becoming more noticed.”

Stegall said he started to see a shift near the end of his career in 2008 – not just on the field but making an impact as slot receivers and running important routes. Paris Jackson, Brett Ralph, and Jason Clermont, among others, emerged as top receivers. 

“You started to see those [Canadian receivers] step in and make an impact,” Stegall said. “You had guys that could flat-out play, regardless of their passport.”

Toronto Argonauts receivers coach Pete Costanza has coached in the league since 2008 and has also seen Canadians come up at the position. 

“Our Canadians, they’ve saved our bacon more than once,” he said. “They’ve all been smart guys. Most of the Canadians that played for me have known all five [receiving] positions. We were able to move them around…they started and played well.”

There are a few theories as to why there are more prominent Canadian receivers than ever before. More are playing in the NCAA, the quality of Canadian university football programs has increased, and junior and university coaches are giving more high-quality reps to Canadians. 

“The game of football in Canada has been elevating,” Philpot said. “We’ve been adopting some American tactics, being able to go down to the [United] States and compete at a younger age.”
Philpot also mentioned coaches at the developmental level giving Canadians more opportunities to prove themselves.

“Letting Canadian receivers getting an actual shot to run some good routes and routes that will actually impact the game,” Philpot said.

Stegall attributes the evolution at the position to training. Before, Canadians would have to go south to work with football-specific trainers. Now, there are more programs, gyms, and trainers north of the border.

“It hasn’t always been there in Canada,” he said. “Now, they can get that training right here in their backyard.”

Costanza said that work is paying off, with Canadian receivers testing better in pre-draft workouts.

“There’s more and more guys every year that have a good draft grade where you feel comfortable drafting them knowing that they can come in and play winning football,” he said. “Instead of having four or five guys that are getting top grades, now you might be getting six, seven, eight, nine guys…you see the surge and how they’re all playing now.”

Two years after Stegall retired, Chatham-Kent, Ont., native Andy Fantuz led the CFL with 1,380 receiving yards for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2010 – the last Canadian to lead the league in that category. Brad Sinopoli was the last receiver to win Most Outstanding Canadian, back in 2018 with the Ottawa Redblacks.

It seems inevitable that Philpot, Schaffer-Baker, or another young pass-catcher will one day replicate those feats and that Canadians will contribute at the receiver position for years to come.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like we’re witnessing right now,” Stegall said.