Dalton Schoen had never set foot in Canada and knew little about the CFL before arriving in Winnipeg for training camp.
“Didn’t know where Winnipeg was until I Googled it,” Schoen told The Canadian Press. “I tell people I didn’t even know there’s 12 people on the field until I got my playbook, which was like two weeks before camp. Then you learned the field’s wider.”
The 26-year-old out of Kansas State was a quick study with the Blue Bombers.
Schoen led the CFL in receiving yards with 1,441 on 70 receptions and tied for the most touchdowns (16) this season with Ottawa’s Caleb Evans.
About to make his Grey Cup debut Sunday, when the Blue Bombers face the Toronto Argonauts at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, Schoen won the league’s 2022 rookie award Thursday night.
“He has all the measurable things that you’re looking for as a receiver,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said. “We ask our guys to do a lot, not just in the pass game, but the run game.
“Seeing the different box looks in the run game and understanding what the different coverages are, that’s not easy to do. I’ve been on teams where guys aren’t asked to do that at all and for us to ask a rookie to do that and for him to pick up on it so fast, I think it’s something that certainly stood out.
Practice stints in NFL
Schoen had watched a few CFL games before his arrival in Winnipeg, but not with actually playing in the league in mind.
He’d had NFL practice roster stints with the Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Commanders and twice with his home state Kansas City Chiefs, following his Wildcats collegiate career.
If you’d told him a year ago he’d be play a prominent role on a team favoured to win a third straight Grey Cup, the athlete from Overland Park says he would have been “intrigued.”
“Canada was never really on my radar,” Schoen said. “I started thinking about it this past spring, when no NFL opportunities came about, but I always tell people I’m blessed to be here.
“I thank God every day to be here because the last two years for the most part, I was sitting at home on the couch. I was training. I was waiting for a call that never came.
“To be here now and get to play meaningful football and have the season I’ve had and get to experience this team, be part of this culture, it’s special.”
Schoen’s adjustment to the CFL clicked in by Week 5 when he had two touchdowns and 117 yards in Winnipeg’s 43-22 win over the B.C. Lions.
His locker was next to veteran wideout Drew Wolitarsky in the Bombers’ dressing room.
Schoen sat beside receiver Greg Ellingson, who had played in five Grey Cups, in the meeting room “because I knew he was a guy who had a ton of experience.”
“He has a lot of attributes that I think I pride myself in having,” Ellingson said. “Hard working, try to be smart and read coverages the right way, put your head down, don’t really talk too much crap to guys and kind of just prove with your play that you can be a baller up here.
“People are always telling you that you couldn’t make it or couldn’t do it, and then not really have to say much, but just proving it with your play that you are that guy.”
Help from teammates
Schoen credits Wolitarsky, Ellingson and Nic Demski for accelerating his transition to Canadian football.
“I always tell Wally and Demski, I’ve got the best spot in the huddle because I’m right between those two,” Schoen said. “They both have so much experience. They never hesitated to help me, most times before I even have to ask.”
Schoen took a leap of faith coming to the CFL. It’s one he recommends to others at a crossroads in their football careers.
“It’s maybe a scary proposition for certain guys,” he said. “You’re going to a country where you don’t know a single other person. That’s kind of overwhelming at first, but one of the biggest things I’ve learned is you have connections with every single person up here.
“This football community, it’s tighter knit than you think. Throughout training camp, as I was getting to know guys, it seemed like every single person on the team I talked to somehow knew someone that I knew or crossed paths somewhere. We’ve got a lot of really cool people on this team.”