Written by Jeff Morris
Photo by Valerie Wutti
OTTAWA, Ontario – It’s an unusual and unprecedented time for football in Canada. Most players have not seen action in a year-and-a-half, and do not know exactly when they will play their next game.
Despite the uncertainty, players are still training, watching film, practising when possible, and getting ready for the next season.
Carleton fullback Mitch Raper is one of a handful of Ravens getting ready for his first professional training camp. Raper was drafted 68th overall by Edmonton in the 2020 CFL Draft. He recently signed his first pro contract, but in the era of the pandemic, there was no press conference or fanfare.
“They emailed the contract documents to me, and I printed them out to read them,” Raper said. “I signed the contract, scanned it, and sent it back by email.”
Although signing his first pro contract came without the fanfare of a press conference or an event, Raper said it was an exciting moment. It was also a reality moment for him, as it was on paper that he would have an opportunity to play the game he loves for a living. “I was super excited just to see a contract with my name and a dollar figure,” he said.
Raper had no expectations going into the 2020 draft. He said he knew he was a “fringe player” who may or may not have been selected.
“I didn’t even really want to watch it,” he said. “I didn’t want to watch the whole thing and then have my name not picked.”
Raper said his family was excited about the draft. They were excited and engaged, so Raper decided to watch the draft with them and make it a family event.
“I knew Jack Cassar was going to go pretty high, and I wanted to watch to see where Jesse Lawson was going to go,” Raper said. Cassar, a linebacker, was selected 11th overall by the Argos, while Lawson, an offensive lineman, was picked 62nd by the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After Lawson’s name was called, Raper got a call from Edmonton.
“When the phone call came I tried to sneak away and be non-chalant,” he said. “Edmonton had only spoken to me one day prior to the draft.” Moments later, Edmonton selected Raper with the 68th overall pick.
“I was excited, I didn’t really have any expectations going into it,” Raper said. “I had seen some draft projected rankings that had me being drafted, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
One of the key factors in Raper getting drafted was his participation in the 2019 East-West Bowl, which was played at Carleton. He was not originally selected to play in the game, but got a phone call just before the week of practices started. The West team did not have a fullback and wanted one for the offence they were running. Carleton coach Steve Sumarah called Raper and asked him if he wanted to come back to Ottawa to take part in the event. Raper got back to Ottawa as fast as he could.
“It was huge,” he said. “It was my first contact with any CFL teams. I played pretty well and overall, it was a great experience. It was super important for me.”
Although Raper is a fullback, he has experience at other positions. In fact, playing competitive football in the Oshawa Hawkeyes program, he was a receiver. The skills he has being a receiver have helped him as a receiver out of the backfield.
“I was scouted by a few schools as a receiver, but when I talked to Carleton, they told me that they saw me as a fullback,” he said. “I really liked the fact that Carleton was completely honest with me. They thought fullback would be a better spot for me, and I grew into the position. I really liked it, and it was a great move for me.”
The most memorable moment Ravens fans have of Raper is a 69-yard pass-and-run play that went for a touchdown in the 2018 season opener against the Western Mustangs. On a third-and-one play from their own 41, the Ravens perfectly executed a play they called “Ricky.” Expecting a quarterback sneak, Western stacked the box and played without a safety.
“I lined up as a tight end, and they were all coming, thinking we were running a quarterback sneak,” Raper said. “We showed them sneak and got them to bite. I was able to slip past the linebacker off the snap. Michael Arruda was our quarterback and he just put up an easy pass for me that fell into my belly. After I caught it, there was nothing but green in front of me. I hadn’t experienced that for quite a few years.”
Raper outraced the Western defenders to the end zone for the long touchdown. “It felt like I was running for about 20 seconds,” he said.
As Raper is preparing for football at the next level, he said the uncertainty of the 2021 season has some frustrations.
“The lack of a timeline is difficult,” Raper said. “It’s not just when the season is going to start and when training camp will be. A lot of it is financial. I am not sure if I should get a summer job, and if I do, how long will I be available for. It’s little things like that.”
While his experience at Carleton has prepared him for the next level of football, he has also learned some life lessons as a student-athlete that will help him.
“The most important thing I learned is accountability,” he said. “In order to be successful, you have to hold yourself accountable. You have to take responsibility for your actions. If you make a mistake, you have to own it.”
To hear the full interview with Mitch Raper, listen to the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast.