The whirlwind that has been Joel Reinders's fledgling football career took a stunning twist Saturday.
The hulking six-foot-eight, 320-pound Waterloo Warriors offensive lineman signed a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns shortly after being bypassed in the NFL draft. Pretty heady stuff for a former basketball player who only took up football at the university level two years ago.
"The first year I started playing I thought maybe I might make a CFL roster and play a couple of years," the Oakville, Ont., native said. "But never in a million years would I have imagined that I'd be going to the NFL.
"It really hasn't hit me yet."
No Canadians were selected in the seven-round draft, which was conducted over three days and concluded Saturday afternoon.
"I watched the draft on TV and going in I was hoping to be picked but my agent [Gil Scott] told me I'd probably have a better chance getting signed than drafted," Reinders said. "But after playing just two years, getting signed [by an NFL club] is awesome.
"With [Cleveland's minicamp] starting next week I'm going to have to get into that football mindset quickly but I'm going there with the intention of making that roster."
Reinders wasn't the only Canadian to garner NFL interest as a free agent.
Free agent signing
Kristian Matte, a six-foot-two, 291-pound offensive lineman with the Concordia Stingers, signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans. The native of St. Hubert, Que., is a versatile performer who played tackle in university but can also line up at guard or centre.
Bishop's Gaiters receiver Shawn Gore, a Toronto native, accepted an invitation from the Green Bay Packers to attend their minicamp next week and while Wilfrid Laurier defensive end Chima Ihekwoaba, of Burlington, Ont., will attend the Detroit Lions' minicamp as well.
Also, Cory Greenwood of Kingston, Ont., a linebacker at Concordia, was negotiating with the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday evening.
Reinders certainly has the size NFL teams like and was also highly regarded by CFL officials, who consider him a blue-chip prospect in next weekend's Canadian college draft. Reinders is ranked No. 11 by the CFL scouting bureau and the expectation was given his relative inexperience he would need time to hone his skills.
But it makes economic sense for Reinders to try and do so in Cleveland. The NFL's minimum salary this year is $325,000 US whereas even as a first-round CFL draft pick Reinders could expect a five-figure signing bonus and salary around $45,000, depending on where he was selected.
Cleveland a good fit
Reinders will join a Cleveland organization that has struggled for years but now seems to be on the upswing with the arrival this off-season of new president Mike Holmgren. Holmgren, one of the NFL's most respected head coaches, helped transform both Green Bay and Seattle into Super Bowl contenders during his time with those clubs.
And Holmgren has shown a willingness to be patient with young players. On Saturday, he said the club has no intention of playing Colt McCoy — the winningest quarterback in NCAA history whom Cleveland drafted in the third round — as a rookie this year.
It's an approach that could bode very well for Reinders, too. However, he can't help but think ahead to maybe one day protecting McCoy in Cleveland.
"Blocking for a guy like Colt McCoy would be a dream come true," said Reinders.
If Reinders is released by Cleveland, he will still have a future in professional football as he's certain to be drafted by a CFL club that will be willing to wait for him to return to Canada.
The same applies to Matte, who in '09 was a Quebec University Football League all-star and a Canadian Interuniversity Sport second team all-Canadian.
"Kristian is one of the best athletes I've ever seen on our offensive line in my 18 years at Concordia University," Stingers head coach Gerry McGrath said in a statement.
Matte Detroit bound
Matte isn't the first Concordia player to attract NFL attention. In 1995, cornerback Mark Montreuil was a seventh-round selection of the San Diego Chargers and spent three years with the club.
Other former Stingers to sign NFL deals or attend tryout camps include receiver Denis Montana (1996, Houston Oilers); receiver Sylvain Girard ('99, Cleveland), punter Burke Dales ('02, Pittsburgh Steelers) and linebacker Mickey Donovan ('04, Detroit Lions).
The six-foot-four, 260-pound Ihekwoaba heads to Detroit after missing much of last season after suffering a shoulder injury in the third game of the year. The injury certainly didn't bother him at the CFL evaluation camp in March, where he bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.78-seconds and a 41-inch vertical jump that was second-best among camp attendees.
Greenwood, ranked third by the CFL's scouting bureau and a bona fide first-round CFL prospect, also had a solid showing at the league's evaluation camp. He posting 24 reps in the bench press, a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds and a 40-inch vertical jump.
Gore showed good quickness for a big receiver at the evaluation camp, running the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds. He also had a 39.5-inch vertical jump. Gore recorded 37 catches for 610 yards and five touchdowns last season with Bishop's.