Over a senior season in which he led the brought all of his substantial skills to the fore, Simon Fraser Clan senior receiver opened eyes all over the college football world. On Sunday he plays in the 2020 Hula Bowl at Honolulu's venerable Aloha Stadium. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)
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The rise of Rysen John: NFL scouts reaching out as Simon Fraser Clan receiver heads to Hawaii and suits up in Sunday’s Hula Bowl

BURNABY — As Rysen John prepares for his biggest audition yet, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that NFL eyes have begun to focus on Simon Fraser’s captivating senior receiver.

“I am getting a lot of confidence during this process right now,” John said earlier this week from Hawaii where he suits up Sunday (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in the resurrected Hula Bowl all-star game at Honolulu’s famed Aloha Stadium.

“Especially being a Canadian,” he continued. “If things don’t work out for me, the CFL will be there, but the big dream right now for me is the NFL.”

That much seems especially true these days.

In the weeks leading up to the Hula Bowl, NFL teams have contacted SFU Clan head coach Thomas Ford about the 6-foot-7 former Vancouver College grad who this past season proved himself to be a true difference-making force, leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in receptions per game (5.3), and receiving yards per game (86.1) while catching 10 touchdown passes in 10 games.

If that happens, it could be an especially memorable season for former B.C. high school receivers.

That’s because Abbotsford Panthers’ product Chase Claypool is coming off an eye-popping finish to his senior season with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, where the 6-foot-4, 229 pounder made 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. Claypool is one of the top-rated receivers heading into the NFL draft and is playing Saturday (11:30 a.m., NFL Network) at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

“I think when you look at Rysen’s season, he’s a guy that now has a legitimate chance to play in the NFL,” says Clan head coach Thomas Ford. “He was able to dominate at D2, he was unguardable all season, and it’s really awesome to see him get acknowledged for all of his hard work.”

None of that is hyperbole.

“Seattle, the Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh, Miami, Indianapolis, and the (New York) Giants and Jets have all reached out to me in terms of inquiring, and I imagine that after the Hula Bowl, there will be even more teams,” said Ford.

Over his Clan career, John showcased his ability to get open, elevate to make critical catches in traffic, and break tackles for extra yards after the catch.

Now, training under Ford’s brother Tracy at Ford Sports Performance in Bellevue, Wash., John’s physical stature and dynamic abilities have all been enhanced through hard work to the point where he’s not just that tall wide receiver.

“Right now, I am really trying to show what I can do as a pass catcher, and that’s from an outside receiver to a tight end,” explains John. “I am trying to do everything I can to be the best athlete on the field.”

The resurrected Hula Bowl, being played for the first time since 2008, is the perfect setting for John to show his stuff, and B.C. fans with who can find a way to watch the 7:30 p.m. telecast this Sunday on the CBS Sports Network will see a bigger, faster and stronger Rysen John.

Clan head coach Ford, in fact, likes the way his graduating senior’s physique has been able so naturally able to thrive with his added msucle.

“I think Rysen’s best (NFL) opportunity, from all the information I am getting from the scouts, is to make the transition to tight end,” explains Ford. “Two weeks working with my brother and he gained five pounds to 230, and I believe he can get to 240 by the time he gets to his pro day.

“So with his skill set, he’s is a match-up problem, and the NFL is all about match-ups. He is that tight end, or that any-side receiver who will be a tough match-up for a safety, a linebacker or a nickel corner. I think he has the NFL intrigued.”

Simon Fraser’s Rysen John is adding muscle to his 6-foot-7 frame, and pro scouts are beginning to hint that the could have a future at the tight end position. (Photo by Kendra Ho and Jacob Hall property of Simon Fraser athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

John’s senior season began like a bolt of lightning when he caught five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown against Div. 1 Portland State.

Starting quarterback Justin Seiber, however, was lost for the season due to injury in that game, and John showed perhaps his greatest mettle in the way he helped shepherd pure freshman starting quarterback Brandon Niksich, eventually developing tremendous chemistry with the new pivot as the Clan went on to win its first conference game in five seasons.

“When you look at Rysen’s senior season, he had the big game against Portland State, and then Seiber gets hurt and he didn’t have any catches the next week (in a loss at Angelo State),” says Ford.

“That was his transition week,” the coach continued. “But he didn’t sit and complain that our starting quarterback was hurt. He went out there and he made things happen with a pure freshman in Niksich.”

It’s a trait that will serve John well as the lights and the scrutiny continue to increase in intensity heading into both pro drafts and the upcoming season.

For his part, Ford loves the fact that the player’s character matches his work ethic and skill package.

“The pro scouts ask me the same questions that I ask the high school coaches,” begins Ford. “They want to know about that work ethic, his family life, his character, his academics, and for me, all of these questions are easy to answer because he is such a high-character person. He’s the kind of kid I would leave my own kids with, and that is a very short list.

“As a player, it’s impossible to replace a guy like him,” Ford added, turning his attention to void John will leave on the field next season. “We will have a deep receiving core and we’ll try to muster a little of what he brought to the table, but my coaching experience tells me he is a generational talent. He has that rare combination of size, athleticism and ball skills, and at the D2 level, I may not coach a guy with his ability again.”

John is soaking up every part of his Hula Bowl week, from the practices, to competing with and against his fellow blue-chip collegians.

And it seems safe to say he is taking none of it for granted.  

“Even being invited to the Hula Bowl… that tells you that I put in a lot of work during my time at SFU,” he says before heading off to a mid-week practice. “So far it’s paying off. I just feel very blessed to be here.”

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