Written by Jeff Morris
Photo by Cole Lawrence
OTTAWA, Ontario – Canada Football Chat ranked Carleton’s 2020 recruiting class as the second best in the country.
It’s hard to imagine there was one better.
As head coach Steve Sumarah adds the role of offensive co-ordinator to his duties, he and his staff will have a lot more talent and depth at the skill positions while adding some size and strength to the offensive line.
Quarterback Tanner DeJong will be returning for his fifth year of eligibility. Behind DeJong, there is a wide open race to be both his back up and his successor for the 2022 season. Among those looking to push for playing time are four blue chip quarterback recruits. Never in Ravens history has there been such a deep and rich class of pivots coming into the program.
“When it rains, it pours,” Sumarah said of his quarterback recruits. “One of the things we talked about was making sure that we had depth at quarterback. We felt like for the last few years we were quite concerned. An injury here and an injury there and we would be in a lot of trouble.”
Te Jessie and Reid Vankoughnett are both Winnipeg natives who are sons of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates Tim Jessie and Dave Vankoughnett. Tim Jessie, who played at Auburn in the same backfield as Bo Jackson, got into three games with Washington in their Super Bowl-winning 1987 season. He was in Winnipeg the next year and was a member of the 1988 Blue Bombers’ Grey Cup championship team. Dave Vankoughnett was a CFL East All-Star offensive lineman in 1993 and played in the Grey Cup that season during his 11-year career with Winnipeg.
In addition to Jessie and Vankoughnett, Kasten Wayken of Edmonton and Tristan Lefebvre of Calgary are also part of the strong QB class.
Sumarah said the staff put a list of who the top quarterbacks in the country were.
“We made a list, and we said okay, we’re going after these guys,” Sumarah said. “We were very up front and everyone knows who is on our roster. It’s not like somebody is going to come in surprised. They just kept coming and saying ‘yes,’ one after another.”
Sumarah credits assistant coach Josh Sacobie, a three-time OUA All-Star and two-time All-Canadian during his career as a quarterback at Ottawa U., for building a rapport with the new quarterbacks.
Of the four quarterbacks, Wayken and Lefebvre have been the only ones who has worked out with the team so far.
“He showed up in January (2020) and we saw two months of him, and then when things got shut down he went back home,” Sumarah said of Wayken. “(Lefebvre) was here in the fall. He is another guy with a big arm who I think learned a lot. You could see the improvement from Week 1 when we were running our skellies to later in the year.”
Sumarah said that there is no depth chart among the new players head into next season.
“I don’t have an order,” he said. “I’m just excited to see them come out and compete.”
While the quarterback class is deep and talented, so is the group of targets they will have. The most impressive newcomers during the fall practices were the Ferdinand twins, Kaseem and Denny.
Like Vankoughnett and Jessie, they come to Carleton with a CFL pedigree. Their father, Denny Ferdinand, was a running back for the Montreal Concordes and Saskatchewan Roughriders. In 1982, Ferdinand was heavily recruited by Ace Powell to come to Carleton. Powell knew Ferdinand from junior football. He was the head coach of the Ottawa Sooners while Ferdinand was the running back for the Montreal Jr. Alouettes. While Ferdinand was in the process of registering for school at Carleton, he was offered a contract to play in the CFL for Montreal.
Perhaps the wait of a generation was worth it, as Carleton has landed two Ferdinands with pro-level football talent instead of one.
“The first receiver we really got to watch is Kaseem Ferdinand,” Sumarah said. “He really impressed us with his football knowledge, his speed, and just his pure desire. If we would have run 400 plays in a day, he would be fine to run all 400.”
Sumarah and his staff got a good look at the Ferdinands while they played OPFL football for the Ottawa Sooners. They grew up playing in the Kanata Knights minor football program, where one of their coaches was former Ravens wide receiver David Blackwood.
“We knew he had talent,” Sumarah said. “I just didn’t know where and when that talent was going to rise to the surface. From what I saw of him last fall, there’s a guy who’s not just pushing to dress, but might be pushing to start.”
Kaseem’s brother, Denny, was recruited as a defensive back but has also seen time at receiver, where he excelled in fall practice sessions. Which side of the ball to put him on has been a topic of debate for months among the Ravens’ coaches.
“We’re pretty deep at DB right now,” Sumarah said. “Even though Denny has show he’s more than capable of playing there, we moved him over to receiver and showed he’s more than capable of playing there as well.”
Denny Ferdinand is pencilled in as a receiver right now, but in him the Ravens have a versatile player who can fill any needs on either side of the ball.
The twins are not the only receivers with elite talent coming to Carleton. One player who Sumarah is excited about is 6’2”, 190 pound Edmonton native Jerel Brown.
“He’s a guy that’s going to come in and rattle some cages,” Sumarah said. “He’s got the talent to jump into that top group.”
Adam Fast from Winnipeg is another member of the recruited crop of receivers. Sumarah says he is the prototypical receiver who can make every catch.
“If the ball’s in the air, he just seems to always come down with it,” Sumarah said. “He creates great separation, he’s fast, and he is a football junkie. He loves football, and he’s excited to be a part of the Ravens.”
Harvey Mufata of Brampton, ON was the Canadian Junior Football League Rookie of the Year. Mufata has been a receiver, a punt returner, a kick returner, and his Sumarah loves his ability to run with his speed and elusiveness.
“His talent is through the roof and he is going to scare people when they line up against him.”
Other receivers coming in include Ben Huckabone of Ottawa, Brandon Forcier of Gatineau and JP Naud of Rimouski, QC.
Two talented running backs are being added to an already strong backfield that includes Nathan Carter and Josh Ferguson. Freud Cesar of Montreal and Matthew Morin of Lloydminster, AB are two players Sumarah is excited about. He coached both of them with Team Canada before they committed to Carleton.
“I’m a big believer that we need players who have a multitude of skills,” Sumarah said. “I don’t want them to have just one skill. I want them to have them be able to A, B and C, and both of these guys bring that to the table.”
Cesar was the star running back for the Canadian team that won the 2018 World Championship.
“His ability to not only run with the ball but catch the ball, block – he’s the five-tool back that you’re looking for,” Sumarah said.
Sumarah coached Morin in the International Bowl.
“He was a running back but he had as good a pair of hands as any receiver,” Sumarah said. “IN that game, he was the most productive player we had vs. the Americans.
On the offensive line, there are five players coming in to add depth.
Nathan Cole is one of the linemen, and Sumarah says he is “almost” an original Raven.
“He was part of our Junior Ravens program when we first started it,” Sumarah said. “He has helped equipment manager Wayne Baird times. He’s been around the program for a long time.”
Cole went to the University of Calgary and spent a year there before coming back to Carleton.
“He is a big, strong kid – probably the strongest kid on our roster,” Sumarah said. “He’s going to be a leader on that offensive line.”
Javon Mitchell of Pickering is an offensive lineman who Sumarah and assistant coach Chris Hopkins are ecstatic about.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he works hard, and he has all the attributes,” said Sumarah. “I don’t know if he fell under the radar or what, but he’s going to be somebody who comes in and play tackle, which talks to how good his feet are.”
While Sumarah usually likes offensive linemen to develop for a year or two before they play, Mitchell may the exception.
“I think he’s got an opportunity to come in and play right away,” Sumarah said. “And I normally don’t say that about offensive linemen. He’s a guy who can come in and definitely challenge for a spot.”
Two local linemen, Almonte’s Kyle Sonnenberg, whose father Tim was a Carleton Ravens centre in the 1980s, and Ty Draper are also in the linemen class. Bradley Peters of Fredericton, NB is also in the linemen class.
For the full interview with Steve Sumarah on the 2020 class of offensive recruits, listen to the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast.