BURNABY — Its three-day virtual draft had just ended Saturday afternoon when Rysen John found out that even in these times of global pandemic, nothing has slowed NFL teams from reaching out and finding the best college football talent around.
“After the last pick of the draft, I was like, ‘OK, cool,’” said John, the Simon Fraser Clan’s 6-foot-7, 237-pound senior receiver-turned-tight end, who barely had time to wonder which of the many teams expressing interest in him before the draft would call him first, sign him to a contract as an undrafted free agent and then invite him to the team’s main training camp.
“Then, within 10-to-15 minutes, while I was playing cards with a couple of buddies I got a call from the New York Giants offering me a contract,” added John, who was named by his mom after former NFL receiver Andre Rison.
John, the top receiver this past season in the NCAA Div. 2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference after catching 53 passes for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns, didn’t need to think about it.
“It was literally one call,” explained John. “Their scouting department asked me if I was interested in playing in New York. I said ‘Yes, yes, I’ll take the deal.’ My agent and I both agreed on it, so it was all good.”
Of course with the current COVID-19 crisis bringing all sports to a grinding halt, John isn’t too sure what will happen next.
“During this crisis, with the virus, I don’t think anyone is flying anywhere right now,” said John. “It’s my understanding we’re staying put until we get further notice from the league. I think at least for now, we might be doing virtual OTA’s.”
And although it has been discussed since the new year, the most significant part of his college-to-pro transformation will be the fact that when he eventually find his way to New York Giants’ training camp it will be as a tight end after spending his entire high school and college career as one of the tallest receivers in the collegiate football ranks.
“It’s going to be different,” admits John. “I won’t lie. But if it makes me more of a weapon then so be it. I’m doing it. I’m playing tight end.”
To that end, John spent time earlier this year south of the line at Bellevue’s renowned Ford Sports Performance, putting himself through something of a boot camp which combined training, skill development and nutrition.
“I came in a bit underweight, but during my time there, I really upped my nutrition and my weight, and once I got to my virtual pro day I weighed 237 pounds,” says John, who weighed 200 pounds as a college freshman back in 2016.
“I felt lean the whole time during my pro day workout… good and lean,” added John who raised the profile of GNAC football this season when he was invited to take part in the Hula Bowl. “But I know at 6-7, I can still put on few more pounds, up to 245. I just have to keep working on my body.”
Newly-installed Clan interim head coach Mike Rigell, named to his current posting after Thomas Ford accepted an assistant coaching spot with the Washington Huskies last month, has worked closely the past two seasons with John as his receiver coach, and says much of that work has centred around familiarizing him with the formations and the concepts he will face as he navigates the challenges of the next level.
“We tried to switch the formations around, getting him comfortable about being in the slot these last two years, getting him used to dealing with linebackers,” said Rigell, a former BYU receiver.
“So he is going to come in with a lot more experience of understanding the route game and the passing side of it,” continued Rigell. “He is a great blocker and once he gets a little more mass on him, he will be able to deal with it even better. But any way you look at it, when you’re 6-7, that’s a problem for anybody.”
John, who thanked former Clan head coach Kelly Bates for believing in him and recruiting him to the Burnaby Mountain campus, as well as all of the coaches who worked with him the past two years, has a ceiling which Rigell feels his star pupil has barely begun to scratch.
Yet if given the opportunity to continue his development in the pro ranks, Rigell can begin to envision the kind of player John can become.
“You can play him like a Jimmy Graham, he is going to learn to put his hand down,” Rigell says.
John never played collegiate basketball like Graham, but at Vancouver College he was a force in the paint and one of the most effortless dunkers this province has ever seen.
“Playing basketball just made me better in terms of my lateral quickness,” he says. “Going around defenders to make buckets helped make me better able to bend around a corner. And being a double-double guy playing at the four or five, rebounding and jumping… it all transferred over well to the game of football.”
For his part, Rigell couldn’t hide his pride for the way John has met every challenge put before him, both on the field and in the classroom, to earn his ticket to an NFL free agent camp.
“He is a special one,” begins Rigell, “so when you see all he has done throughout his maturation process, all the peaks and mountains he went through, you’re just extremely happy for him. I know it wasn’t easy for him.
“When somebody does everything in their power to put themselves into this kind of position, to just get his foot in the door, however you have to do it, that is the same way we’re trying to move this football program forward,” added Rigell. “Rysen has been a leader since he’s gotten here and we’re just happy that he gets to live out his dream.”
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