Corby quietly says goodbye after promising start

Former Gaels reciever on route to CFL, retires at age 22

Weeks after being drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos, Doug Corby (left) retired from professional football at the age of 22.
Weeks after being drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos, Doug Corby (left) retired from professional football at the age of 22.

Just weeks after training with the NFL’s New York Giants and getting drafted by the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, former Gaels wide-receiver Doug Corby has officially retired from professional football.

At age 22, Corby joins the growing list of football players to retire before reaching their full potential as professionals.

On May 31, the Edmonton Eskimos released a statement announcing Corby’s retirement. Since then Corby hasn’t spoken publicly about his decision, leaving fans to speculate on his reasoning.

Later that day, Eskimo’s radio analyst Dave Campbell tweeted head coach Jason Mass response to the news. 

Looking back at his Queen’s career, Corby was a standout athlete.

Last May, in his first showcase for CFL scouts, Corby dominated the East-West bowl — a game used to showcase talented CIS players eligible for the Canadian Football League Draft.

Corby set a bowl record with three touchdowns (seven, 50 and 63 yard catches) and a total 131 yards receiving on the day, claiming the Team East Offensive Player of the Game.

In his fourth year, Corby translated his stardom from the bowl game to an entire season. As the Gaels’ leading wide-receiver, Corby was a constant thorn in the side of defenses, leading all receivers province-wide with 19.3 yards per catch and finishing second with 118.4 yards per game.

Looking back at scouting reports, Corby’s main asset was his speed.

At the CFL combine this March he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds — the fastest time for all players at the combine this year.

Because of this, Corby was ranked 20th among all CFL prospects by the Scouting Bureau prior to the draft.
The biggest surprise for Corby came this year when he was selected as one of ten Canadians invited to the Giants rookie camp. In an interview with NFL Canada he said his jaw dropped when he saw the text from his agent.

Just eight days after being invited by the Giants, the Edmonton Eskimos selected Corby with the 53rd pick in the CFL Draft.

In a league where Canadian receivers are often used for short possession routes, Corby had the potential to become an impact player in the CFL.

“When you get a Canadian guy who has the speed that Corby has he can be a big play threat that gives you a lot of further options from a roster standpoint,” CFL Yahoo Sports writer Andrew Bucholtz told The Journal.

Instead, after only a few short days with the team, the Eskimos will have to search for a new replacement.

Bucholtz pointed out that the timing for Corby’s decision seems odd — he had gone through the entire process already with the CFL combine, Giants rookie camp and getting drafted.

“It would be different if Corby said upfront ‘I’m really not that interested in playing professional football I have other options’,” Bucholtz said. “But he attended the combine — did well at the combine and looked like he was interested.”

While Corby might seem like an outlier, going through the draft process just to retire before playing a single down of professional football, there are multiple plausible speculations for his decision.

According to Bucholtz, there have been a growing number of young retirees because of the CFL’s pay scale. If Corby was to have made the Eskimos, he would likely be paid the league minimum — $52,000.

While this is still a considerable sum, compared to salaries in the NFL — where the average yearly salary is $1.9 million — it’s incredibly low.

Furthermore, in a sport like football, where contact defines the game, it raises the question — how much money is it worth to risk potential health issues for a few years of football?

One of Corby’s major scouting question marks going into the draft was his health. While he doesn’t have a history of concussions he missed three games in his final year at Queen’s due to injury.

Bucholtz also identified a trend in the CFL where a majority young retirees have been Canadians. For Bucholtz, their outlook is much different compared to American players, who don’t see the minimum salary as a deterrent.

“A lot of the American players don’t really care what the conditions are exactly like in the CFL, they don’t care how much money they are making and so on, they are using it as what they hope is a shot to the NFL and a big contract,” Bucholtz told The Journal.

While Canadian players are retiring due to injury, they also have looked to life beyond football.

Ben Heenan — the first overall pick in the 2012 CFL draft — retired this April to pursue a career in farming. Just last year, running-back Steven Lumbala announced his retirement to take a better paying oil and gas job.

“When you consider what some of these very smart university-educated guys can make in other fields, and the rising amount of information we are learning what football can do to you, some people really think it’s not worth it,” Bucholtz said.

With the new information that comes out everyday on concussions and the potential long-term negative effects football has on players’ health, it’s understandable to see a guy like Corby step away from the game.

In the NFL, concussions have been a major factor in players’ retirement. Chris Borland — a former middle linebacker on the San Francisco 49ers — was the first player to start this trend, when he retired one year into his career. Now in both leagues players are retiring before they’re forced to by career ending injuries or age.

“I think guys retiring young makes others consider that if they do really want to keep playing is it worth getting banged up,” Bucholtz said.

Corby also isn’t the first Queen’s player to retire before playing. In 2014, Sam Sabourin — a linebacker for the Gaels, ranked 12th by the CFL Scouting Bureau — informed the league he wouldn’t attend the combine to focus on school and other career pursuits. Now, Sabourin is the strength and conditioning coordinator of the University of Waterloo’s football team.

As far as football goes, for now at least, the book is closed on Corby. As reported by The Journal last year, Corby plans to finish his degree at Queen’s in the winter semester of 2017.

While it may have come as a shock to many, Corby’s decision to walk away from football is starting to look like the new norm for athletes as they try to find a different life when the game is over.

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