Being invited to a National Football League (NFL) training camp is the first phase of a dream come true for young players aspiring to play at the sport’s highest level.
Canadians seldom get that opportunity. That’s why Don Mills resident Shawn Gore is on cloud nine after signing a contract with the Green Bay Packers following rookie orientation camp.
The Bishop’s University wide receiver, who was drafted 10th by the British Columbia Lions in this year’s Canadian Football League (CFL) draft, was among three rookies to sign contracts. A total of 28 players took part in the four-day tryout camp.
“To tell you the truth, I am still in a bit of a state of shock at how fast things have happened in the past few weeks,” Gore told Share before leaving last week for the Packers’ Organized Team Activities (OTA). “I did not actually realize that I was invited to the orientation camp until I was there. That’s when it really hit me.”
Gore said his first inkling that an NFL team was interested in him came late last month when Green Bay’s scouting department sent in a request to Bishop’s for some game film.
“The next thing I knew is that they said they wanted to bring me in,” said Gore, the recipient of an Antigua & Barbuda Association of Toronto scholarship last October.
“The workouts consisted of full practices with other players and lots of team meetings over the four days. But the biggest challenge was dealing with the huge playbook with about 500 pages. You had to learn on the fly and show the coaching staff you could apply that knowledge and make plays on the football field.
“I knew I could compete athletically with the Americans and I was smart enough, so I wasn’t fazed. After the last workout, I was summoned to the office and told that I would be getting a contract. That was pure music to my ears.”
Gore says he is looking forward to meeting the Packers’ talented wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and Aaron Rodgers who was the National Football Conference (NFC) Pro Bowl starting quarterback last January.
“Being around those quality players just observing their work ethic and learning from them will assist me in improving my game,” he said. “It’s great to be in the presence of such good people and players.”
Projected to be drafted early in the CFL draft, Gore dropped to the second round after the Canadian teams sensed he might be picked up by an NFL side. The CFL draft took place on the same weekend that Gore was in Wisconsin for the rookie camp.
Gore led Bishop’s Gaiters this season with 32 catches for 496 yards and five touchdowns. He was also third on the team with 7.0 special team tackles and he posted a career-high 114 yards on seven catches in the university’s playoff loss at Montreal last November.
Overall, he caught 72 balls in 29 regular-season games for 1172 yards in his four years with Bishop’s.
Gore said he was drawn to Bishop’s by the lure of playing for St. Vincent & the Grenadines-born Leroy Blugh, the first Black head coach of a Canadian university.
The former defensive lineman, who played 15 years in the CFL, and Gary Waterman of St. Francis Xavier University are the only Black Canadian university football head coaches.
“I was planning to go to the University of Toronto before changing my mind at the last moment and heading to Bishop’s,” said Gore who grew up in North York and attended Don Mills Collegiate before transferring to Newtonbrook Secondary School in Grade 12 to play football.
“I wanted to get out of Toronto and I was seeking some independence. I also attended French Immersion school, so I knew I could fit in, in Quebec. But having a coach like Blugh, who was also a father figure and someone I looked up to as a role model and a mentor, was huge for me. Being far away from home meant that I needed someone to look out for me and he admirably filled that role.”
Even though Green Bay has offered him a contract, Gore knows that he could be cut at any time without compensation since NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. He plans to work hard in the OTA over the next few weeks before heading to training camp at the end of July.
“Eighty players are brought into training camp and 53 are taken,” he said. “I have to make sure that I am not one of the 27 that are cut before the season starts in September.”
Gore’s mother, Cassandra, is confident that her only child will make the Packers’ line-up.
“I am very proud of Shawn who has come a long way and I am certainly going to make some road trips to see him play during the upcoming season,” said the cousin of former Leeward Islands cricketer/manager Hugh Gore.
The reigning Bishop’s Male Athlete of the Year is the third player from his university to sign with an NFL team.