CFL clubs size up late bloomer Newman

Vancouver Islander a possible first-round draft pick
Mike Beamish, Canwest News Service
Published: Sunday, April 27, 2008


Leo Blanchard is an unlikely story himself, an Edmonton kid who never played football in high school but later developed into a two-time CFL all-star and a five-time Grey Cup champion. Yet the former Edmonton Eskimo offensive lineman believes that Jesse Newman's road to the CFL is even more implausible.

Newman's former offensive line coach with the junior Victoria Rebels, Blanchard frankly is mystified that his former charge has turned into a pro prospect. Though Newman wasn't selected in the two-day NFL draft that ended Sunday, the left tackle from Powell River, B.C., by way of Louisiana-Lafayette is a possibly first-round pick in Wednesday's CFL Canadian college draft.

B.C. Lions, with the No. 6 pick in the first round, are serious about obtaining more offensive line depth. And it would shock no one if Newman is their man, though 2008 could be one of most fluid drafts in recent memory.

"I'm quite shocked that he (Newman) ended up in the NCAA and did so well," Blanchard admits. "To be able to go to a major American college, especially coming from where he did, it just blows me away. For a guy who never showed anything to end up playing there is pretty significant."

Newman is an oddity, not only because he hails from Powell River, which lacks both high school and community football, but because he ended up at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he became the first Canadian to play for the Ragin' Cajuns. A rock on the offensive line, Newman was a four-year starter and the school's top pass protector.
Jesse Newman of Powell River, B.C., who's turned heads on the offensive line at Louisiana-Lafayette, is a potential first-round pick during Wednesday's CFL draft.
Jesse Newman of Powell River, B.C., who's turned heads on the offensive line at Louisiana-Lafayette, is a potential first-round pick during Wednesday's CFL draft.
Courtesy, University of Louisiana-Lafayette

In his senior year, in 2007, the six-foot-four, 309-pound tackle was picked as a Sunbelt Conference first-team all-star and selected as Louisiana-Lafayette's best pro prospect. However, Culley Curran, Newman's agent, said the player's poor performance on NFL Pro Day - when graduating seniors work out individually for scouts - was a result of mononucleosis.

"He just felt apart," Curran says. "Teams left scratching their heads because the Jesse they saw live just didn't square with the player they saw on video."

Newman's college game tapes, however, have a number of CFL teams believing he could be a ratio-changer at left tackle, including the Lions, Roughriders, Eskimos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who have the No. 1 pick on Wednesday.

Not bad for a guy who played only one year of high school football, in Tsawwassen, B.C., where Newman moved on his own initiative to play in his Grade 12 year.

"My grandma (Sarah Newman) lived there and I realized, if I wanted to play football, it was the best opportunity," Newman says. "I don't know what I would have done without her."

After leaving high school without a diploma, Newman spent a year with the junior Surrey Rams, mainly as a bench sitter, before he moved on to Victoria, hoping his circumstances would change. Blanchard said Newman had some adjustment problems with the Rebels and really didn't distinguish himself in his two years there.

During the 2001-02 BCJFL seasons, he played alongside Andrew Woodruff, a top-rated guard who went on to Boise State University.

Rated among the top 40 offensive linemen in NCAA football next season, Woodruff is also eligible for this year's CFL draft, though he'll likely drop to the second round, since Woodruff won't be coming out until 2009, when he is projected to be taken in the NFL draft.

Though Woodruff was mature beyond his years - he started playing junior football at 16, against 18 to 21 year-olds - Newman's charm is that he surprised everyone. He hardly had the typical background of a college athlete on scholarship. Then again, he is hardly the typical college athlete. Newman turns 26 in September.

"I was 21 when I got down there (Louisiana), and I was a bit different than the usual freshman," he says.

"Junior football was definitely a huge advantage for me. It gave me the extra time to get stronger and more mature."

He is living proof that, in football, sometimes it's unwise to make snap judgments.