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CIS & U Sports Players Who Made It To The NFL

These Canadian college football players made the unlikely leap to the NFL – and made history in the process.

David Onyemata, Tyrone Williams, and more U Sports (formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sports) players who made it to the NFL
Credit-Getty Images/NFL/CFL/Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame/Joker Mag

The National Football League is one of the premier sports organizations on the global stage. Known for its intense competitiveness, the NFL is home to the best football players on earth.

Despite the league’s high standards, many U Sports (formerly known as Canadian Interuniversity Sports) players have made it to football’s highest level.

From the Canadian college gridiron to the NFL, these men have traveled paths with determination forged in collegiate competition in The Great White North. 

Building on our coverage of CFL pros who made it to the NFL, now we’ll showcase how the skills of U Sports alums translated into NFL careers.

Here are the best CIS/U Sports players who forged their own paths to successful NFL stints.

David Onyemata, DL

David Onyemata on critics: "You can't really tell someone what to think. It's what you got and who you are deep down. That's all that matters."

I wasn’t thinking numbers. I just wanted to do the best I could.– David Onyemata

David Onyemata achieved acclaim as a talented defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints. But few people know that his football journey didn’t begin until the age of 19, when most players are already on the brink of an NFL career. 

Originating from Lagos, Nigeria, Onyemata’s background was as far removed from American football culture as one could imagine.

But despite his late start, minimal knowledge, and the struggle to adapt to a new society, his ascent was remarkably quick.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints traded up to select him as the 120th overall pick, making him the University of Manitoba’s inaugural NFL Draft selection. In just five years, Onyemata transformed from a novice to a professional player.

Under the mentorship of coach Brian Dobie, Onyemata’s rise culminated in an impressive career, featuring 151 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks. 

The big man’s story epitomizes the power of determination and adaptability. He has proven that even unconventional paths can lead to extraordinary success in the NFL.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif quote: "If I make it to the Pro Bowl in the same year that I graduate from medicine ...and win the Super Bowl... all my goals will be accomplished."

If I make it to the Pro Bowl in the same year that I graduate from medicine … and win the Super Bowl (…) all my goals will be accomplished.Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is a native of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, known for his exceptional skills on the offensive line. He was a 2-time CIS All-Canadian at McGill University.

He took a unique journey to the NFL.

After weighing 250 as a college freshman, he packed on more than 60 pounds in four seasons at McGill University.

Despite practicing just once a week to juggle medical school, he was still “the best college player in Canada”, according to Sports Illustrated.

A 6th-round pick in 2014, he fought his way into the Chiefs’ starting lineup.

Four years later, he graduated from medical school.

While the league didn’t let him put “M.D” on his jersey, he got the last laugh.

One year later, Duvervnay-Tardif helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV.

Akiem Hicks, DE

Akiem Hicks: From Canadian college football to one of the greatest Chicago Bears of all-time.

I look forward to going back out there and competing at a level I can be proud of. I’m gonna approach that this week and that week as I should.– Akiem Hicks

Akiem Hicks is a San Jose, California native who established himself as a formidable force as an NFL defensive end.

At 6 feet 5 inches and weighing 347 pounds, he possesses a rare combination of size, strength, and agility that makes him a standout presence on the field.

Hicks’ journey to NFL prominence began at the University of Regina in Canada, where he played college football for the Regina Rams. His impressive performances garnered attention, leading to his selection by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Over the years, Hicks made a significant impact with his tenacious play and disruptive presence on the defensive line. He played a crucial role in the Chicago Bears defense after joining the team in 2016, earning Pro Bowl recognition and being named one of the 100 greatest Bears of all-time.

Vaughn Martin, DE

I’m a defensive lineman, and in the NFL you’re going to have to be interchangeable.Vaughn Martin

Vaughn Martin is a former D-lineman renowned for his impactful presence on the football field. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pound Jamaican-born Canadian made his mark in the NFL with his exceptional skills and versatility.

Martin’s journey to the NFL began at Western Ontario University in Canada, where he played college ball for the Mustangs. While he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, his performance at the University of Michigan’s pro day led to his selection by the Chargers in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Martin showcased a relentless work ethic and adaptability throughout his NFL career, spending time with the Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and Detroit Lions.

Randy Chevrier, DE/LS

You forget the wins, you learn from the losses and go forward.Randy Chevrier

Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Randy Chevrier is a former professional defensive end recognized for his impactful career in the CFL and the NFL.

Standing 6 feet 2 inches, the Montreal native’s journey began at McGill University in Canada, where he played college football for the Redmen.

His standout performances at the Canadian university level set the stage for a successful transition to the professional ranks. In 2001, he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 7th round, marking his entry into the NFL.

After one season in the NFL, Chevrier transitioned to the CFL, where he carved out a spectacular career – where he became a 3-time Grey Cup champion.

Jerome Pathon, WR

I shoot for the stars. I come anything short of that, I accept that. But I’m coming in here to compete, I’m coming in here to play.Jerome Pathon

Jerome Pathon is a South African-born Canadian and former wide receiver whose dynamic presence on the field left an unforgettable mark. He brought speed, agility, and precise route running to the teams he played for.

The Pathon family’s move to Canada nurtured Jerome’s love for football. This international exposure influenced his worldview and added a distinctive layer to his identity as a pro athlete.

His college journey unfolded at the University of Washington, where he showcased his exceptional talent as a wide receiver. In the 1998 NFL Draft, the Colts chose him in the second round, propelling him into the spotlight.

After hanging up his cleats, Jerome began his college football coaching career at the University of San Diego before moving on to USF.

Mark Montreuil, CB

Mark Montreuil attended Concordia University, where he showcased blazing speed and lockdown coverage at cornerback for the Stingers.

The Chargers made him a 7th-round draft pick in 1995, where he spent three years and 35 games in the league.

Montreuil is best known for a record-setting 4.36 40-yard dash at the CFL Combine in 1995, solidifying his reputation as the fastest Stinger on record.

Tyrone Williams, WR

Meet Tyrone Williams: the first player to ever win a Vanier Cup, a Super Bowl, and a Grey Cup

Tyrone Williams was a standout receiver at the University of Western Ontario who brought speed, agility, and precise route-running to the gridiron. 

The Cardinals took him 239th overall in the 1992 NFL Draft, at the time making him the first Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (now U Sports) player selected in the draft since Mike Schad. He was also the first skill-position player taken since 1982 (QB Dan Feraday).

Due to a work visa issue in 1992, he was waived by the Cardinals and picked up by the Dallas Cowboys the following day.

He was a member of two Super Bowl-winning squads in Dallas (1992 and 1993), and later helped the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup in 1996 – becoming the first player to ever win a Vanier Cup, a Super Bowl, and a Grey Cup.

Williams was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Other CIS/U players who went on to the NFL:

  • Mike Schad, OG
  • Lirim Hajrullahu, K
  • Dan Feraday, QB 
  • John Priestner, LB
  • Brian Fryer, WR
  • Tyler Varga, RB
  • David Foucault, OT
  • Henoc Muamba, LB
  • Stefan Charles, DT
  • Jon Ryan, P
  • Cory Greenwood, LB
  • Israel Idonije, DE

Leveraging their college talents as a springboard to the NFL, these U Sports alums carved a path to a place they felt destined for despite improbable circumstances.

What lesson can we all learn from this? Believe in yourself and your abilities – you just might achieve your wildest dreams!

Editor’s Note: Are there any other CIS/U players you know about that went on to be drafted into the NFL? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll add them to the list! 

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Written By

Eric Pangburn is a former professional basketball player who has played in seven countries. His playing career is highlighted by a two-year stint in Germany and Mexico. Eric now spends his time coaching youth basketball and managing the basketball website, Infohoops.com.

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