Samuel Narkaj’s Road to the CFL Draft

Former Stinger to Participate in Upcoming National Combine Next Month

Samuel Narkaj is preparing to have a peak performance at the CFL National Combine in Regina, Sakatchewan this March. Photo Courtesy Brianna Thicke

Samuel Narkaj is about to head to Regina, Saskatchewan to partake in the most important training camp of his life. In about three weeks, he will be participating in the Canadian Football League National Combine, almost ensuring his spot on a team.

But it was in Detroit, Michigan a little over a decade ago where he first fell in love with football.

Narkaj, who started playing football in grade six, played two seasons with the Clifford H. Smart Middle School Trojans.

The next step for Narkaj was high school football. He remembers going to watch the game and seeing the packed stadiums. Narkaj participated in two weeks of training camp for the team—he was hungry for the experience. But those plans would be canceled.

He and his family packed up and moved to Toronto in 2007. At 14 years old, he was upset with the decision. “It was a big culture change,” said Narkaj. “I was so attached to where I was living in the states.”

“We went from 5,000 person stadiums to two rows of bleachers and grass fields,” he said. “I didn’t get to experience that high school culture over there, which was pretty upsetting—I felt like it was taken away from me.”

Narkaj was no stranger to new environments, though. At 5 years old, he and his family left Albania in 1997 during the civil war. The Stingers alumnus admits to not remembering much during that point in his life, but there are a few memories that he recalls.

“I remember from time to time, but it was a time of war,” Narkaj stated. “I have some memories, going up north to the mountains for a little vacation, and to the beach—I remember planes flying over.”
He was just a kid back then, so the move wasn’t difficult to deal with.

Coping with the move to Toronto was a challenge for Narkaj though. The first couple of months were tough, he said, as thoughts of quitting football began to take shape. “I was going through some rough times,” said Narkaj. But once he got onto the field, he said all became fine. He was back playing, this time representing his high school—the Silverthorn Collegiate Institute Spartans.

Prior to making his way to Montreal to join the Concordia Stingers, Narkaj also played two years for the West Shore Rebels in British Columbia, in the Canadian Junior Football League. The CJFL is a post-high school league geared for 17 to 22 year old players.

When Mickey Donovan signed on as head coach a year after Narkaj joined the Stingers, he immediately saw Narkaj’s potential.

“[Narkaj] is very powerful and explosive off the ball,” said Donovan. “He’s very good with his hands, and he knows how to use his height and his body weight to his advantage.”

Narkaj’s ability on the football field proved essential to Donovan’s team. This past season alone, he recorded 23 tackle and six sacks. Donovan was equally impressed with Narkaj’s overall passion for the game.

“I always had a dream for myself, and that was to be a professional athlete” — Samuel Narkaj

It was almost as though football was his life, said Donovan. “He channeled [his passion] to work and wanted to get better each and every day, and that’s something special when you see that in a player.”

Narkaj spent four years at Concordia studying urban studies and playing for the Stingers. During that time, Narkaj became one of the country’s top football prospects, which has been proven by his invitation to the combine.

The national combine will take place in Regina, Saskatchewan from March 23 to 25. The Combine invites 35 CFL prospects ahead of the 2017 draft. Players will undergo various fitness tests, drills and medical examinations.

“It’s what I’ve been working for, for the past four years,” said the former Stingers defensive tackle. “I always had a dream for myself, and that was to be a professional athlete.”
Narkaj is humbled to be invited to the combine as well as representing the Stingers in the process. He’s excited to get started, but says he will be keeping a cool head prior to the combine.

When asked about his time at Concordia, Narkaj was stumped for words.

“It was great,” he said after a long pause. “I met so many great [people] in the four years there. It’s indescribable—the memories we made, the people I’ve met. Friends that I’ll have for a lifetime.”

During his time with the Stingers, Narkaj proved a leader on the field. According to rookie Vincent Alessandrini, “he’s the one who got us pumped for the game.”

Throughout his first season as a Stinger, Narkaj became somewhat of a role model for Alessandrini.

“As a person, I love the guy,” said Alessandrini. “He’s really taught me a couple things on and off the field and he’s definitely someone to look up to—[Narkaj] came to Concordia and made a name for himself.”

With the combine a little less than a month away, both Donovan and Alessandrini have nothing but confidence in Narkaj.

“He honestly is the strongest person I’ve ever encountered,” said Alessandrini. “[Narkaj] is probably going to break a record at the bench press—he has tremendous power.”

The CFL will also be holding three regional camps ahead of the national combine. Three Stingers players, Max Thompson, Jean-Pierre Munroe and Aldo Cione, will be participating in the Eastern Regional Combine held in Montreal. If selected, they will join Narkaj in Regina.

For players like Alessandrini, seeing players and teammates attend the combine gives him the motivation to follow in their footsteps.

“I want to go as far as I can with football,” he said. “If it’s CFL I’ll go [there]. If it’s the NFL wow that’s amazing—It really motivates seeing all these guys going to the regional [camps] and getting invites to the national.”

For Donovan, seeing players come and go is nothing new. But he continues to have their backs, post-university ball. From the three players attending the regional camps, Donovan said he wouldn’t be surprised if one or two get an invite to the national combine. “I always want to see the kids do well in life, no matter what it is that they’re doing,” he said.

As for Narkaj, Donovan feels it should be a no-brainer for CFL teams, stating that there are three or four teams that would suit Narkaj. “Hopefully the CFL guys did their homework properly and can get it done right,” he said.