Versatile draftee Nkanu 'embracing' challenge along o-line at Stamps camp

Young Montreal native praised for push to play at multiple positions for Calgary’s CFL squad

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Christy Nkanu was a centre of attention at Calgary Stampeders rookie camp.

Mainly because the team is searching for someone to help short-snap the football for the 2024 CFL season and beyond.

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And the young offensive lineman has taken it upon himself to get to know that part of the game.

“I played guard and tackle my whole life in college,” said Nkanu, who was the eighth-pick overall in last week’s CFL Draft. “Centre is kind of new, but I learned how to snap by myself during the off-season. So it’s a little different.

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“It’s a little bit of a learning phase, but I’m embracing it.”

That attitude is a big reason why the Stamps moved up in the annual pick-em to draft Nkanu.

They sent their 13th and 14th selections overall to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the eighth and 28th picks last Tuesday, recognizing that Nkanu might not be there for them in the second round.

“It feels good, for sure,” said Nkanu, when asked about being a wanted man by the Stamps in the draft — enough to make the major swap of picks. “It also puts a little pressure on — I’ve got to come in every day and just perform.

“But I’m embracing it. Feels good to be back on the field.”

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The Stampeders love the idea of his versatility — that being that he can play multiple positions along the offensive line.

And especially that centre — and short-snapping — is something that he’s working on to make himself a more well-rounded option in the pro ranks.

“I just love this game,” said Nkanu, with a big smile. “I just want to get on the field, right? Like most of the guys here, I just want to play ball and take care of my family and friends. So every day, I show up and try to get one per cent better.”

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The Stamps are hoping that it means he’ll be a starter along the line sooner rather than later.

They felt on draft day that the Montreal native — a big man at 6-foot-2, 309 lb. — could come in and make that step quickly into the trenches full-time.

“The main thing for me is that when I was playing NCAA football, we didn’t have the yard, so the timing of the contact was quicker,” said Nkanu, who was a Pac-12 star with the Washington State Cougars in 2023 and — before that — a solid o-lineman with the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. “So now I’ve got to be a little patient and just kind of set my set and just throw my hands when it’s time.”

“He’s got good size,” lauded Stampeders GM/head coach Dave Dickenson, after Wednesday’s first look at the rookies — including Nkanu — at the three-day kick-off camp. “He played guard and centre for us today. He did quite a bit of one-on-ones going against some big men and some talented guys in the interior, and I thought he held his own.

“You can tell he’s hungry — wants to play football. I can tell he’s a leader on the o-line, as well. That’s a group that we know has to be at the top of its game for us to have a good year.”

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And having 25-year-old Nkanu step up now would go a long way to helping make that happen.

“I’m just trying to compete every day,” Nkanu said. “It’s a little different (in the CFL) than what I’m used to playing. So I’m still learning — I’m learning the playbook. And at the end of the day, whenever my time comes, it will come.

“I’m just trying to be the best I can every day, and then if my number gets called, then my number gets called.”

It’s helping that Nkanu already has a strong connection with quarterback Jake Maier, the Stamps expected starter under centre.

The two have been working on snaps in camp, but they’ve long known each other before the o-lineman’s arrival here early this week.

“So I played my senior year (of high school) in L.A. — we went to the same high school,” Nkanu said. “Obviously, he was older than me. And then we played against each other — when I was at Southern Utah, he was at UC Davis. His mom was my teacher in high school. I lived with his uncle for a year. His family lives near my family. I spent the summer over there. I was there for draft day.

“It’s nice,” added Nkanu. “He’s giving me some advice on how to be a rookie. So it feels great to have someone to lean on.

“It will get hard eventually right? So it’s kind of nice to have someone that I know and am comfortable to talk to. I’m just glad to be here. I’m excited.”


Friday’s third day of rookie camp marked the last one for the 50-some fresh-faced hopefuls trying to impress the Stamps coaching staff and earn invites to main camp … Main camp opens Sunday at McMahon Stadium … The first live CFL action for the Stampeders is a host of the BC Lions on Saturday, May 25, at McMahon (2 p.m.).

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