BURNABY — Justin Buren was feeling a lot of satisfaction on Friday morning for closing a chapter of his football career with every ounce of effort he could muster.
Now, he’s ready to head off to Hamilton to try to start his next chapter with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Buren, 22, was selected in the fifth round (37th overall) of the Canadian Football League draft on Thursday after the 6-foot, 195-pound receiver led the Simon Fraser Clan in receiving yards over each of his final three seasons.
Buren, who stuck with the Clan program despite finishing his career as part of the program’s current 33-game losing streak, hoped that his perseverance spoke to the level of pride and dedication he was bringing to both his professional career, and to the collegiate program he hopes he’s helped to turn a corner in the immediate future.
“Hamilton had been in contact with me for a while and they had been the most persistent team,” said Buren, the third in a long-line of receivers to impact the Clan program from Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary.
“So in that aspect, I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise that they picked me,” he continued, “but the round itself was a bit of a surprise. I thought I would go later.”
Buren, who graduated from Centennial in 2013, took a redshirt season in his first campaign atop Burnaby Mountain, making his freshman debut in 2014 under Jacques Chapdelaine, who led the team to 2-9 (2-4 GNAC) record in his only season at the helm.
Buren caught 20 passes in six games for 255 yards and four touchdowns that season, before having his most productive yardage totals over the past three seasons, all winless, under now former head coach Kelly Bates.
“A lot of the guys opted out,” continued Buren of the players who elected to leave the program over his tenure, “but I couldn’t do it. I wanted to try to make something happen. Unfortunately I couldn’t.
“It was really tough losing on such a consistent basis, but I had support from the whole team and we were all just trying to take an opportunity to do better things. Still, I can’t remember a time when I was on the field and we won a game.”
It’s a testament to Buren that he cared so much about his program and not his own stats, that he’s forgotten about maybe the best game he played as a college receiver.
On Oct. 14 of 2014, in a home game against South Dakota State at Swangard Stadium, Buren caught nine passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns as part of the Clan’s 53-31 win over the Hardrock Miners.
The Clan have not tasted victory since, although new head coach Thomas Ford is working hard to try to assemble a roster which reverses that momentum.
And the pros of having produced a highlight tape from his four years with the Clan?
“Going into games, I was fully aware that I would be double-teammed and isolated and have to beat that kind of coverage,” said Buren, who finished his Clan career with 145 catches for 2,012 yards and nine touchdowns. “It was tough, but at the end of the day, you just have to make plays and I feel like that is kind of what I bring to the table. I didn’t do it as much as I would have liked at SFU, but I feel like I have been a player who over my entire career has been able to bring a spark.”
When he reports to Hamilton, he’s hoping that spark gains him notice.
“I understand I will have to pay my dues,” he says. “I am ready for the grind, to work my butt off. At the pro level it’s the best versus the best so I know the smallest details can make a difference. I am totally prepared to learn from the best and elevate my level.”
Buren had a fantastic career at Centennial, where he followed both Bobby Pospischil and superstar Lemar Durant to SFU’s Terry Fox Field.
In fact since 2012, a Centennial player — either Durant, Pospischil or Buren — has led the Clan in annual receiving yards.
“Lemar gave me some words of advice going into the combine,” said Buren of the emerging star receiver with the Calgary Stampeders. “It was all about doing my thing. I have been following him since the ninth grade. I followed in his footsteps at SFU. He has been so helpful to me. But it’s not going to be a bad thing for me to go out and try to make a name for myself.”
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