Time hasn’t quite cured what ails Stefan Charles.
The 24-year-old native of Oshawa, Ont., has always been an Atlanta Falcons fan and still hasn’t got over the heartbreak of the franchise’s 34-19 Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos in January 1999. But having the opportunity to don the team’s colours and celebrate an NFL championship would certainly erase that lingering bitterness.
The towering Regina Rams defensive lineman can certainly dream big these days considering he’s garnering plenty of interest south of the border leading up to the 2013 NFL draft in April. He’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Akiem Hicks, who was selected in the third round last year by the New Orleans Saints.
“When I played next to Akiem (in 2011) I didn’t feel there really was much of a difference between us,” said Charles, who has declared for this year’s NFL draft. “Any team that takes me is going to get a player who will work hard and always want to be the best.
“I’m always looking at what I need to do to improve and get better.”
Over three seasons at Regina, the six-foot-five, 310-pound Charles had 56.5 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 22 career games. By comparison, Hicks, an American who was once a top prospect at LSU, had 56 tackles and eight sacks in 16 CIS contests.
The scouting report on Charles says the native of Oshawa, Ont., is very athletic and possesses a long reach, qualities that could make him a nice fit as a defensive end in an NFL three-man front.
Not bad, considering Charles never played minor football growing up and early in high school was a basketball player before turning his attention to the gridiron.
To date, Charles has spoken to Atlanta, Jacksonville and Dallas while several other clubs — including Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis and Seattle — have called Regina looking for his game film.
But it’s the Falcons that Charles grew up cheering for.
“It has always been the Falcons,” he said. “I used to root for (former Atlanta running back) Jamal Anderson and I was heartbroken when they lost the Super Bowl.”
However, Charles will have the luxury of options when it comes to where he plays next.
He’s also very highly regarded for this year’s CFL Canadian college draft. The league’s central scouting bureau ranked Charles fourth among the top-15 prospects for the 2013 draft.
And Charles would readily welcome the opportunity to play in the CFL.
“All I’d like is the opportunity to play professional football,” he said. “That’s all I need, really.
“I know I have a lot I need to work on but any team that takes me is going to get a player who will work hard to be the best he can be. They definitely won’t regret it.”
Rams head coach Frank McCrystal said Charles definitely has the tools and ability to play at the next level.
“He can play professional football, whether it’s the NFL or CFL really depends on him, McCrystal said. “Stefan is big, he’s strong, he’s explosive and he plays on the field with an edge and those are all important parts of the package.
“The interesting thing when you talk to Akiem about being down there, he was at (Saints’) facility from 7-8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day so the next part about that is being physical and good but there’s also a huge mental commitment that you have to make to the game itself.”
McCrystal said the player Charles is now differs a lot from the raw recruit the Rams received when he arrived in Regina three years ago.
“When he came in he was very shy and sometimes you don’t want to label a guy but he wasn’t as confident as he could’ve been and should’ve been,” McCrystal said. “Three years later we have a very confident, sure young man and I think that was a big part of it.
“Certainly a big part of that confidence was the support he received here but also the fact that when he was able to commit to proper training and diet that also made him much more of a physical player and a more complete athlete.”
But an athlete who sometimes tries to do too much on the football field.
“I think the one thing Stefan needs to do is make sure he’s doing his job,” McCrystal said. “Sometimes, like all guys in that position when they want to be noticed, they do things they don’t have to in order to get noticed but that puts them out of position.
“I think it’s important to play your position and if you do the guys who are in the know, like the scouts and coaches at the professional level, will notice that. You might not get the sack but you’re the guy who when they’re watching will notice you did your job. Stay low, get to where you’re supposed to be and locate the ball.”
But Charles isn’t the only Rams player receiving NFL interest. McCrystal said he has spoken to a number of American officials about Brett Jones, a six-foot-two, 310-pound offensive tackle from Weyburn, Sask., and first-team All-Canadian the last two years.
“We feel pretty fortunate, we’re lucky we have those guys and were able to attract them,” McCrystal said. “I think it speaks well for our program, I think it speaks well for Canadian football too.
“There are some pretty good players in the league. It’s pretty good and certainly Akiem doing as well as he did certainly cued some people to watch what’s going on up here.”