TORONTO (U Sports) – Antony Auclair, a tight end from Laval University, and Geoff Gray, an offensive lineman from the University of Manitoba, have been selected to represent U Sports football in the 92nd edition of the prestigious East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, January 21, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The longest running university all-star game in the United States, the Shrine Game has been played annually since 1925 to raise funds and awareness for the 22 Shriners Hospitals in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
Since 1985, U Sports has been represented annually at the event which features over 100 draft-eligible seniors, primarily from NCAA institutions. On most occasions, two U Sports players have made the trip across the border, with the exception of 1985 (1), 2008 (4), 2012 (3) and 2016 (3).
More than 90 players from last year’s game signed with professional teams and more than 70 made final National Football League rosters. On average, around 265 Shrine Game alumni are on NFL rosters each year.
Auclair, a sport intervention student from Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., is the second Laval standout in as many years to receive an invitation to the prestigious event. He follows in the footsteps of offensive lineman Charles Vaillancourt – now a member of the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions – and becomes the Rouge et Or’s sixth overall selection, good for second place behind Calgary (12) among U Sports programs.
In four seasons on the Quebec City campus, Auclair helped Laval capture a pair of Vanier Cup national titles, first in his rookie campaign in 2013 and then last month when he was a key factor in a 31-26 triumph over Calgary, catching six passes for 70 yards and one touchdown in the championship match. Praised for his blocking abilities and his superior athletic skills, the six-foot-six, 254-pound senior is also a model of durability as he never missed a game during his university career.
This past season, Auclair had 17 receptions for 229 yards and two majors in eight league contests and was instrumental in the successes of an offensive unit that averaged 36.1 points and 460.6 yards per game. A unanimous RSEQ conference all-star for the second straight year, he added 12 catches for 154 yards and one score in four playoff outings.
Selected to play in the U Sports East-West Bowl last spring, Auclair was ranked 10th overall – sixth among U Sports players – on the prospects list published in September by the CFL Scouting Bureau.
“My goal was to get noticed, but for me, this is only one part of the process that’s getting started. The draft is the ultimate goal and the Shrine Game is only one of the steps,” said Auclair. “It will still be an important event because all the scouts will be on hand. I expect it to be very similar to what we did at the East-West Bowl last spring.”
“Antony caught the attention of the NFL, as up to seven teams asked for information about him. The scouts who evaluated him said it would be good for him to participate in this kind of game because of the level of competition,” said Laval head coach Glen Constantin. “We are honoured to see a sixth member of the Rouge et Or invited to this prestigious classic.
“Antony was a quarterback in CEGEP, so he only started playing tight end here at Laval. He has made great progress, not only as a receiver, but also as a blocker. He has benefited from the advice of Mathieu Bertrand, who helped him work on the technical aspects of blocking. He also improved under Justin Éthier and Guillaume Rioux, and also did a lot of work in the weight room.”
Gray, an engineering student from Winnipeg, also follows in the footsteps of a former teammate as Manitoba was represented at last year’s Shrine Game by defensive tackle David Onyemata, now a regular member of the New Orleans Saints after being selected in the fourth round (120th overall) in the 2016 NFL draft. Overall, the Bisons have sent five players to the winter classic, including three in the past four years.
Gray had a breakthrough season this fall in his fourth campaign on the U of M campus. The imposing six-foot-six, 310-pound guard was not only voted a Canada West all-star for the first time, he was also named the conference’s most outstanding down lineman, a national nominee for the J.P. Metras Trophy and a first-team all-Canadian. He started all eight league games for the Bisons, who averaged 34.5 points and 487.1 total yards per contest, including 333.1 yards through the air, good for third in the country.
A member of the Canada West championship team in 2014, Gray participated in last spring’s East-West Bowl and was ranked 11th overall – seventh among U sports players – on the September list of the CFL Scouting Bureau.
“I am grateful to be selected for the Shrine game,” said Gray. “I am eager to represent myself, my team and Canadian university football. It will be an unforgettable experience.”
“Geoff’s selection is well deserved, and is a culmination of his tremendous work ethic and dedication to the game,” said Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie. “As the third Bison selected to the Shrine Game over the past four years, Geoff will represent U Sports and the University of Manitoba with great pride.”