Wally Buono has a soft spot for the hard-hitting safety from the UBC Thunderbirds.
Taylor Loffler runs like a deer, hits like a mule and thinks like a coach.
Buono, GM and head coach of B.C. Lions, glimpsed first-hand his encompassing game at last year’s Hardy Cup in Calgary, where the UBC safety wreaked havoc with the game plan of the undefeated Dinosaurs. The T-Birds’ upset victory propelled them two week later to their first Vanier Cup championship since 1997.
“He’s a very good athlete. And he’s got NFL size — 6-3, 215,” Buono said of Loffler. “Whether the NFL is looking at him … I don’t know.”
Indeed, they are now.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s NFL draft, Loffler received a phone call from the New York Giants, inviting the free agent to a three-day rookie camp which starts Thursday at their training facility in New Jersey.
Giants assistant GM Kevin Abrams, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, is known as the most CIS-savvy executive in the NFL.
“I can’t get too excited,” Loffler admitted. “I have to prove myself, to show that I’m good enough to be at that level. It definitely complicates my situation (in the CFL draft). But I understand it’s a business. Whatever happens happens. They’ve given me a chance, so I’ll just go with it.”
Having replaced serviceable Chris Rwabukamba with Eric Fraser at safety last year, Buono cast a wide net in CFL free agency, snagging nine players, including Mike Edem, yet another safety.
The possibility of drafting Loffler, who has hovered around the top 10 prospects list for the May 10 CFL draft, would seem to be an exercise in redundancy. But Buono thinks differently.
“You could have two good safeties,” he said. “He’s also a guy you could move around to play different positions.”
With the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, Buono is more likely now to consider an offensive lineman, such as Philippe Gagnon, who won the strongest man competition at the CFL combine, or Laval teammate Charles Vaillancourt, yet another CIS prospect headed to Giants rookie camp.
Loffler excelled at the CFL combine in March, showing impressive one-on-one cover skills, despite being the biggest defensive back among the group. Inexplicably, he dropped from No. 9 to No. 11 in the final rankings of the CFL Scouting Bureau a month later.
“It is what it is,” he admitted. “I had a good combine and I know the (B.C.) Lions really did like me. In one mock draft, it had them taking me. It really just depends.”
With a business degree from Boise State in hand, Loffler chose to play a single one-and-done season last year at UBC. He said his mind was made up to turn pro, regardless of how the 2015 season transpired. He has one year of CIS eligibility left.
“I’ve played my share of college,” Loffler said. “I’m ready to move to the next level.”
His Vanier Cup teammate, linebacker Terrell Davis, is of the same mind.
Eligible to play for the T-Birds again in 2016, Davis and another Victoria product, UBC kicker-punter Quinn van Gylswyk, were among 107 underclassmen granted special eligibility in January for the 2016 NFL draft. Thirty of that group went undrafted, including the two Canadians.
Davis, who earned a scholarship to Arizona State as a running back, played only a single season at UBC after making the conversion to linebacker.
“That would be the only negative,” Davis said. “One year of college experience as a linebacker. I’ve thought about that. But I’m really set on playing professionally. I’m been told that I could go anywhere in the (CFL’s) second or third round.”
On March 30, scouts from the Lions, Toronto Argonauts and area bird dogs with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders tested Davis and van Gylswyk at a Pro Day on the UBC campus. (Loffler worked out for all 32 NFL teams at his Pro Day at Boise State).
“They did work me out as a running back, too,” Davis said. “That was interesting. But I like linebacker a lot more now than running back.”
School’s out for van Gylswyk as well. He turned 25 in April, making him ineligible for Canadian college competition.
A two-time All-Canadian, he admits his higher educational aim was to sharpen his football skills, not necessarily to pick up a UBC sheepskin.
“I still feel like I can develop more in the CFL, maybe take my skills down south (NFL) at some point,” van Gylswyk said. “That would be awesome.”
To that end, retired NFL kicker and Super champion Eddie Murray, a native of Victoria, sent him a gift of eight NFL official game balls to further inspire a striving for excellence.
“I love the pressure of being a kicker,” van Gylswyk said. “That’s the fun of the game for me.”
But can he handle the heat in a professional pressure cooker?
Photo: Taylor Loffler, the impressive safety of the Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderbirds, has been invited to the New York Giants’ rookie camp. The B.C. Lions also like the looks of the 6-3, 215-pound athlete. (PNG Merlin Archive)
CFL Scouting Bureau Rankings
The CFL Scouting Bureau releases its rankings three times each year. Here are the final rankings before the May 10 draft: