Capital calls Chapdelaine

CFL expansion franchise tabs fifth-year receiver as newest off-season signing

Former Gael Justin Chapdelaine is on his way to the pros.

The slot receiver signed a contract with the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa RedBlacks last Friday. While at Queen’s, Chapdelaine played a key role in the Gaels’ offence, acting as quarterback Billy McPhee’s go-to target for the past three seasons.

His best season as a Gael came in 2012, when he hauled in 36 receptions for 521 yards and four touchdowns.

“I’ve had the best opportunity here at Queen’s,” Chapdelaine said. “The help of major influential people like my coaches, teammates, friends and teachers will go a long way.”

The call from the RedBlacks took Chapdelaine by surprise. He attended the CFL scouting combine in Toronto last March, but wasn’t selected in the 2013 draft.

“I really didn’t have any expectation to play football after this past year,” he said, “but I was shocked, surprised and extremely grateful [at being signed].”

Chapdelaine initially joined the Gaels as a quarterback in 2009, backing up legendary pivot Danny Brannagan in his rookie season. He took the reins as the starter behind centre in 2010, throwing for 1,878 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Although he had moderate success as a passer, Chapdelaine shone when he used his legs, rushing for 225 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010.

With Queen’s offence tooled more towards a traditional pocket passer like McPhee, Chapdelaine decided he had the best chance to one day play professional football if he transitioned to receiver.

His athletic frame and strong hands resulted in instant success at the slotback position.

“I’ve always wanted to play quarterback, but at the time, I believed our best chance as a team was for me to play receiver,” Chapdelaine said.

The decision turned out to be one of the best of his career. Chapdelaine was a primary target on three straight playoff teams, including the Gaels’ Yates Cup finalist squad in 2013.

“When he came back as a receiver, he was pretty much an instant success,” said Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan. “He understood the offence, knew how to get open, was a great athlete, and was great after the catch.

“Justin was very, very useful as a receiver.”

Determined to stay in football after wrapping up his CIS career, Chapdelaine was pursuing a coaching job before the CFL came knocking. His father, Jacques Chapdelaine, joined Simon Fraser University’s team as head coach this offseason and had given Justin a chance to work with the receivers.

Jacques is a former CFL receiver himself and has worked as an offensive coordinator with the Calgary Stampeders and BC Lions.

Regardless of how Justin’s adventures in professional football play out, Sheahan foresees a promising future in coaching or teaching for his former player.

“By the end of his career he was another coach on the field,” he said. “[Coaching] is definitely in his blood.”

Chapdelaine’s combination of athleticism, intelligence and overall football acumen means he’s likely to succeed in whatever facet of the game he chooses to pursue.

A trio of fourth-year Gaels could soon follow Chapdelaine to the pros. Defensive back Andrew Lue, linebacker Sam Sabourin and defensive lineman Derek Wiggan are all slotted in the top 15 of the CFL Scouting Bureau’s prospect rankings.

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