To Canada? Fewell’s NFL dream on hold at the moment

bmccormick@heraldonline.comMay 16, 2014 

Jibrille Fewell is headed to Atlanta on May 17 for a tryout with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Fewell’s NFL dreams are on hold, for now.

BRET MCCORMICK — bmccormick@heraldonline.com

  • Locals playing in Canada

    Jonathan Hefney, Rock Hill High School: Safety; plays for the Calgary Stampeders. All-CFL selection while playing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

    Jamie Robinson, Northwestern: Defensive back; enjoyed a successful first season in the CFL last summer, making 52 tackles and intercepting three passes.

    Marty Markett, York: Former Gamecock defensive back; made 26 tackles and an interception for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last season.

    Other local 2014 undrafted free agents

    Asa Watson (Rock Hill High School, N.C. State) signed with the New England Patriots.

    Fred Lee (Chester High School, University of Buffalo) signed with the Buffalo Bills for rookie mini-camp.

Jibrille Fewell was in Columbia on Wednesday getting his passport. He’s hoping, praying, that the Canadian Football League beckons.

Fewell went undrafted by the NFL last weekend – no huge surprise – but was unable to reach a deal with any of several interested teams during the free agent period that unofficially concluded Monday. The Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings both made offers, but Fewell’s agent, James Peterson, was unable to reach a deal with either team and both moved on.

So Fewell, and fellow undrafted Rock Hill natives Mike McClure and Jarrett Neely, are off to Atlanta on Friday in advance of a pair of Saturday open tryouts with the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Eskimos. Fewell, a former South Pointe Stallion, will be working out for Calgary at 9 a.m. at Atlanta’s Lakewood Stadium. The tryout costs $80.

This isn’t the route to pro football that Fewell foresaw several months ago, but at this juncture, he’s not being choosy.

“I just want a shot,” he said, shaking his head during an interview Thursday. “I’d play for free.”

Myrtle Beach escape ... attempt

Fewell said earlier this week that he’s ready to go 100 miles per hour on Saturday. His attitude at the tryout will be a complete turnaround from the previous Saturday when he was wracked by nerves, or from Monday when he had succumbed to depression.

Fewell was nervous about the draft, so he headed out of town last weekend with his mother, Grafonda Ruff. It proved to be a tense Mother’s Day weekend for both. Ruff and Fewell holed up at the Sea Palms Hotel in Myrtle Beach for the weekend, hoping to stiff-arm some of the stress that draped over Saturday and Sunday like a wet beach towel. While Ruff went out with some friends to avoid watching her son dangle helplessly, Fewell couldn’t escape the desire to know ... something.

“Man, I was a nervous wreck,” he said.

The Atlanta Falcons reached out to Fewell on Saturday between 6 and 7 p.m., after the draft concluded. This was it, he thought.

Turned out it wasn’t. Fewell’s agent, Peterson, couldn’t reach an agreement with the team and the Falcons moved on, not needing to negotiate when a sea of undrafted free agent fish was available. Then, Fewell’s two smartphones went silent. Well, except for well-wishers and friends and family texting and calling to see what was happening.

“People would call, you would think it was somebody else and your heart would drop,” said Fewell. “It’d be somebody from around here saying, ‘you alright?’”

Fewell strolled out to the beach. Didn’t help.

“Every five minutes I was looking at my phone.”

This was the part Ruff, or any other mother, especially on this of all weekends, couldn’t bear to watch. That’s when Mom had to get some fresh air.

“She knows when something’s wrong with me,” said Fewell. “I was just trying to talk to her making her think that everything was OK. I think it hurt her more that I was hurting.”

Grim realization

When the mother and son got back to Rock Hill, Fewell was gloomy. The Minnesota Vikings called Monday morning, but Peterson again couldn’t reach a deal with the team. Fewell wouldn’t comment on the record about Peterson’s representation.

Fewell returned to his room. Door shut, lights off, but unable to relinquish that dang phone, on the off chance that a team might call with the shot of a lifetime.

The 300-pound defensive tackle remained like this for two days, until McClure and Neely, in the same situation, came to the rescue of their friend and former opponent in high school football. McClure, who starred at Rock Hill High School and Coastal Carolina, and Neely, who played at Northwestern and Alabama State, dragged Fewell out of his house, but not before an epic hour-long venting session took place.

“We just sat down and talked like girls for about an hour,” said Fewell. “But we can’t be sad about stuff that should’ve happened or was supposed to happen. Can’t dwell on it; have to continue to work.”

With some of the stress flicked off his shoulders, Fewell and McClure worked out at Northwestern High School. Hard. They did it again the next day, Wednesday, at a local gym. A return to the workout routine Fewell kept in Buffalo during his training allowed him to regain some sanity and perspective on the situation. Not content to rely on his agent, he began reaching out to the myriad contacts he’s made during his football odyssey. He heard about the CFL tryout and also went down to Columbia on Wednesday to apply for a passport and get his background check and illness history squared away in case he needs to travel out of the country.

On Thursday, Fewell seemed at peace with the detour in his perceived path to the NFL. He said that if you talked to him in 11th grade, he just knew he would go to South Carolina and then be drafted by an NFL team. But not everyone will have as clear-cut a journey as Fewell’s cousin, Jadeveon Clowney, or his god-brother, Stephon Gilmore.

“It is a competitive dream that everybody wants to live,” said Jeff Hoffman, a Charleston-based scout for the CFL’s Edmonton franchise.

C(FL)hance

The CFL Draft was held Tuesday night. The selection process was limited to players born in Canada, but CFL clubs are now signing import players, almost all of them American. Edmonton’s tryout in Atlanta will be the team’s 24th held in the U.S. since January. CFL training camps start on June 1, so it’s late in the offseason, but teams are still looking for one last steal from the States.

Hoffman, who coached Fewell during the College All-Star Bowl back in February, said that CFL teams are “looking for a specific position that they have a need still outstanding, or they’re trying to line it up to where if someone does not arrive, someone doesn’t pan out, someone gets injured, they’ll have at least a board of who they can bring in next.” Teams could also be looking for players to fill a certain niche within the confines of the CFL’s roster limits on import players. (Only 19 out of 46 can be non-Canadian).

Hoffman is a regional scout for the Eskimos; he’s headed up to Edmonton on May 30 to scout the team’s players during training camp and help management and coaches make decisions on which players to keep. He won’t be at the tryout Saturday in Atlanta but is thrilled that Fewell will be there.

“There’s definitely a chance for him,” said Hoffman. “It depends on what they’re looking for, and does he fit that bill?”

In the best-case scenario, Fewell could earn an invite to a CFL rookie camp or training camp, which begin at the end of the month. The worst case – nothing happens – wouldn’t even be Fewell’s worst day this week.

Fewell knows that to turn the flickering mirage of professional football, the NFL, into a reality, he needs to keep moving forward. The dream hasn’t yet materialized in the way he had hoped, but as Hoffman said, “he needs to just keep playing, whether it’s in Canada or arena. I know Arena League is off his radar right now, but Arena League may be something he could jump in right away.”

Hoffman cited a player he coached during a stint in the Arena League, Caesar Rayford. A 6-foot-7 defensive end, Rayford worked his way up from the Arena League to the CFL, before eventually signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Last Tuesday, after emerging from his darkened rut, Fewell and Neely watched a brief YouTube video on Buffalo Bills’ running back Fred Jackson, who made a similar ascent. Fewell was encouraged.

“You just got to continue to work and pray that another opportunity come for you,” he said.

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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