ALLEN PARK -- If you peruse his web site, a decently orchestrated PR machine, you're clouded with suspicion as to why any professional football team -- regardless of the league -- would pass on Western Ontario University standout wide receiver Andy Fantuz. Why would a guy who once scored four touchdowns in eight minutes, a guy some have called "the best ever" slide through seven rounds of last weekend's NFL draft?
Blame Canada. At least its football (oxymoron-alert) heritage.
But two and a half hours away, the Detroit Lions have looked past his lack of competition, inviting the 6-4, 220-pound Fantuz to this weekend's rookie mini-camp in Allen Park. Unlike most undrafted rookie free-agents, Fantuz was not given a contract, but he will have the opportunity to earn one if he impresses Detroit's coaching staff.
"I'm a little nervous," Fantuz told The Canadian Press. "But I'm really going in with no expectations, other than it give it my all."
Considered the most prolific receiver ever on the Canadian collegiate level, Fantuz set numerous Canadian Interuniversity Sport Football (CIS) records, including yards (4,123), touhdowns (41) and catches (189) en route to the "Hec Crighton". The trophy is awarded to the top collegiate player in Canada. In three of his four years, Fantuz was also named First Team All Canadian.
"..he's just a remarkable catcher of the football," said Western coach Larry Haylor following a Mustangs win in 2004. "What do they say in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)? He's the best there is, the best there was and maybe the best there ever will be."
But with competition that would make most U.S. Division III schools blush, Fantuz will have to demonstrate at least a fraction of those abilities at the Pro level to garner any roster or even practice squad consideration. He participated in the annual East-West Shrine Bowl, comprised of some of the best talent across the nation and in Canada, but left with just one reception for 11 yards.
Naturally, Fantuz's gaudy college numbers garnered him attention from the Canadian Football League; he was the No. 3 overall pick by the Saskatchewan Roughriders last month. Given the Roughriders' investment in Fantuz, despite their previous knowledge of his interest in the NFL, it's clear he is a long shot in Detroit.
Although his size is noteworthy, Fantuz has drawn criticism for his lack of speed. He clocked a 4.52 during the 40-yard dash, and hasn't shown the ability to run away from defenders. Still, he has soft hands and obvious football instinct -- he once collected three interceptions when his shorthanded team moved him to safety.
Fantuz is among a collection of high CFL picks that have drawn interest from NFL teams. The University of Calgary's Dan Federkil, a fifth overall pick by the Toronto Argonauts, signed as a UDFA with the Indianapolis Colts. Ricky Foley, a sackmaster for the York Lions, was the B.C. Lions' fourth overall pick but will join the Baltimore Ravens during the team's mini-camp in mid-May.