CFL All-Pro receiver Ben Cahoon makes his mark

<b>Ben Cahoon</b> was a little-known wide receiver when he signed with BYU out of Ricks College in 1995, but avid golfer and Cougar head coach Lavell Edwards knew he had scored what amounted to -- in golf parlance -- the equivalent of a double eagle. Even before he played a single down for BYU, Edwards said "Ben Cahoon may have the best hands of any receiver we've ever had around here."

Edwards added that Glen Kozlowski, another Cougar who played for the NFL Chicago Bears, was probably the only player who could compare. Interestingly enough, Kozlowski was an indirect factor in the development of Cahoon's amazing hands.

"I grew up watching Glen Kozlowski at BYU and I was a big Kozlowski fan as a kid. I always wore number 7 because of my admiration for Kozlowski. I used to practice doing spectacular leaping catches on my bed in my room, imitating Glen Kozlowski."

Many BYU fans may recall the amazing catch Cahoon made against Texas A&M in the 1996 Pigskin Classic. ESPN was also impressed and included Cahoon's catch on their SportsCenter intro clips for an entire year.

Cahoon was particularly proud of the 1996 BYU football team that finished 14-1 and won the Cotton Bowl. "I think what made us good is that we were so well balanced. We had a spectacular quarterback, above-average receivers, outstanding tight ends, excellent running backs and a great O-line," he said.

"We were a very tough team to defend because we had so many ways to hurt you. We also had a real solid defense and we had James Dye, who could score just about any time he touched the ball."

Cahoon has maintained contact with former teammates from the 1996 team, including Dustin Johnson, Chad Lewis, Itula Mili and Spencer Reid.

He followed up his stellar 1996 performance with a better season in 1997. After he was named All-Conference and Academic All-American as a senior, Cahoon decided to continue his football career in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and was the 6th pick overall by the Montreal Alouettes in the first round of the CFL draft.

He has continued to impress for five years in Montreal. He ended last season with 75 catches, 1,075 yards and was named the Canadian MVP of the league. In typical understated humility, Cahoon volunteered: "I had a good year."

Cahoon's personal success in 2002 was made even sweeter when the Alouettes won the Grey Cup, Canada's SuperBowl.

Asked what it was like to win the CFL Championship Grey Cup, he replied: "They had a big parade for us in Montreal. It was unbelievable, just like Yankee parades in New York City. There were thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets. People were throwing out confetti from the office windows of skyscrapers while we drove down the center of the road in trucks and cars. It was great."

He and his teammates are anxious to defend their Grey Cup title in 2003 and Cahoon likes their chances.

Asked to describe his first five years in the CFL, Cahoon explained: "It's been a great experience for our family to move up to Montreal. It's always great to come back home every year, but getting outside of Utah has broadened our experience."

Cahoon, wife Kim, and their three daughters have made the adjustment to living in French-speaking Montreal.

"It's an adjustment culturally, but it's been really good for our family. We have to rely on each other when we're out there because we're so far away from our parents, brothers and sisters. We haven't quite learned French yet, but we're getting close."

His description of life for a CFL player? "It's tough. A first year guy is probably making $40,000-$50,000 Canadian, which is about $30,000 US. It's not glamorous and it's hard to stick it out sometimes."

Ben stays in contact with former teammates and other BYU Cougar alumni also playing in the CFL like Neal Fort, Mo Elowonibi, Omarr Morgan and Kevin Feterick. Other former teammates have passed through the CFL -- including Shay Muirbrook and Kaipo McGuire -- and Roger French, former offensive line coach under Lavell Edwards who is now coaching with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"Football-wise, it's been a lot of fun. I went up there after the '97 season because, frankly, I had a sour taste in my mouth. I thought we underachieved as a team in '97 and I wanted to prove something to myself. I've now been up there five years and I've actually been able to make a living, which was kind of tough the first couple of years. The CFL is great. It has exciting, high quality football and it's a lot of fun to play. I've definitely gotten rid of the sour taste in my mouth."

Cahoon also commented on Alouette next-door-locker teammate Lawrence Phillips, long beset with off-the-field problems and challenges since his playing days at Nebraska and later with the St. Louis Rams.

"I was fully aware of the baggage and I was plenty skeptical, but I was pleasantly surprised with the type of teammate he was. He was a great teammate, an unbelievable athlete, and for the most part a pretty normal citizen, but he doesn't handle stress real well about 5% of the time. Ninety-five percent of the time he's a great guy -- real positive, funny and unselfish. You don't get that too often."

He noted that Phillips was released during the off-season. "We released Lawrence Phillips, but most of the team is intact. We've lost a few players to free agency, but I think we'll have a real good team. I've been training with a couple of huge tight ends this off-season. I'm work hard, trying to keep up with them, so I should be in good shape for this season," added Cahoon.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Look for Ben Cahoon's first -- of many -- exclusive articles about "Cougar Pro's" next week.)

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