He's shown NFL scouts he's a versatile player, but Canadian Benjamin St-Juste isn't resting on his laurels.
The Montreal-born defensive back showed well at both cornerback and safety at last month's Senior Bowl, an annual showcase event for the top college prospects for the NFL draft. And with the league's upcoming combine slated to be held virtually, St-Juste's live performance in Mobile, Ala., will carry a lot of weight with football officials south of the border.
However, the six-foot-three, 205-pound St-Juste says there's still plenty for him to do in order to be taken in the NFL draft and get a shot at playing in the league.
"I've got to get through those days of training and my pro day and more meetings," he said during a recent video conference. "Once the day happens (being taken in NFL draft), I'll take a couple of days just to let that set in and understand how far I've come and all the trials and tribulations I've had.
"Then it will be right back to work trying to achieve more goals and bigger things ahead. If you’re not in the first 32 picks, nothing’s solidified after that . . . There’s no definitive answer. I’m just trying to go as high as possible."
St-Juste began his college football career at Michigan, playing as a freshman in 2017 before redshirting in 2018 due to a hamstring injury that ultimately affected his scholarship status. He transferred to Minnesota in 2019, appearing in all 13 games (starting nine) and finishing tied for the team lead with 10 pass breakups.
St-Juste played in five of Minnesota's seven games this season. He registered 14 tackles and broke up three passes while earning academic All Big-10 honours.
After leaving Michigan with a degree in sports management, St-Juste earned his master's in the field at Minnesota. Impressive, considering St-Juste wasn't able to speak English until he was 17.
"Every day I tried to put as much effort into my school stuff and football," said St-Juste, who declared for this year's NFL draft despite having another year of college eligibility. "So when Michigan didn't work out because I got hurt my second year, then I wanted to leave with my diploma, I didn't want to leave Michigan with nothing.
"I went to Minnesota and thought, 'I'm going to play and start, that's all nice. I'll go to the NFL but I want to make sure I have my master's.' I'm just trying to make sure I maximize my opportunity to go to college for free."
It appears a pro career beckons for St-Juste. He was ranked 11th on the CFL scouting bureau's most recent list of the top-20 prospects for this year's draft.
Trouble is, it looks like the CFL will have to wait as St-Juste not only has the versatility NFL scouts like but also the size and speed, too. An 80-plus-inch wingspan and penchant for being disruptive don't hurt, either.
St-Juste was invited to participate in the NFL combine and will also audition for pro scouts at his pro day in Minnesota sometime next month.
He is currently training at the Mamba Sports Academy — the facility founded by the late Kobe Bryant — in California. He’s also represented by Mike McCartney, the director of football at Priority Sports and Entertainment, whose clientele includes Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
St-Juste has no preference regarding the position he'd like to play at the next level.
"Obviously a lot of teams saw with my size, versatility and speed I can play both," he said. "I played a lot of corner but I got limited reps at the Senior Bowl at safety and I looked good.
"It doesn't really matter, whatever a team needs. Obviously I'm more comfortable as a corner but you can put me anywhere on the field and I'll make the most of it."
St-Juste is more than just a player. Last summer, he appeared on CNN to bring attention to improved COVID-19 protocols by the NCAA.
"When I started this movement and this kind of process, it was because I saw there was nothing really in place and our whole season was going to get cancelled," St-Juste said. "We had two, three games cancelled this year (due to COVID-19) and that was with the enforced new protocols and being tested every day and the whole staff getting tested.
"Imagine if we just went freestyle with no protocol like they wanted to do this summer? Going on CNN was a plus, it provided us with a spotlight to speak and give our opinion. It’s not what we wanted, but I was pretty pleased with (protocols) they came up with in terms of safety and being tested every day and the rules of staying out."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press