From the gridiron comes word former Ballenas Whaler Carson Rockhill is one of two Canadian-born players invited to suit up at the inaugural Players All-Star Classic in Little Rock, Arkansas this Saturday.
Being billed as ‘Battle for the Rock,’ the newly floated high-profile college football all-star game will be played out at Memorial Stadium Feb. 4 and is expected to sell out at over 50,000 fans.
For the players it’s a chance to strut their stuff at what doubles as an NFL combine. For for pro scouts, it’s another opportunity to evaluate college seniors.
For Rockhill, the only Canadian university player to get the call, “it’s a huge opportunity.”
The game’s organizers are headed by Little Rock businessman Walter O’Neal, and John Murphy, the assistant GM for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders who over the years has worked on over 20 different all-star games. The other Canadian suiting up will be Christo Bilukidi. The six-foot-five, 295-pound Bilukidi was a two-year starter at Georgia State who played primarily at defensive tackle but also saw action at defensive end. The native of Angola, who grew up in Ottawa and was named a team captain for the 2011 campaign, led the Panthers with five sacks. Both Canadian players will be playing for the North.
Closer to home, the Rockhills are a football family and it should come as no surprise that Carson’s older brother Brandon and the rest of the clan are very proud.
Contacted in Cowtown on Friday, Rockhill, 21, confirmed he’s looking forward to the big challenge in Little Rock.
He is in his fourth year at U of C, and he still has two more years of eligibility left. This is also his draft year, and the Ballenas Secondary School grad is expected to generate a lot of interest at the CFL draft in May. And if Little Rock pans out, the NFL could very well be calling too.
Rockhill started playing football at the age of 10 when he joined his brother on the Parksville Packers, and has played every season since.
“Eleven years,” he confirmed.
“You couldn’t do the things that we have to do all year ‘round if you didn’t love the game,” he chuckled when asked if he still brings the same passion for the game to the field after all those years, pointing out, “we’re working out seven days a week with two-a-days twice a week … it’s a huge commitment, especially at the college level, and you find out quickly who’s (serious).
“Ultimately you want to achieve the best you can, you want to have a chance to go to the CFL, or even the NFL.”
On that note, Rockhill, who is working towards his degree in business and general management, has been invited to the CFL Evaluation Camp in Toronto, March 2-4.
While it’s certainly his rep and skill set on the field that earned him the invite to Little Rock, Rockhill credits his Canadian CFL agent Darren Gill for getting it done.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” he said honestly. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but it’s a great opportunity.”
The Classic, he pointed out, will feature NCAA Division 1 athletes from some of the biggest programs in the USA — players from teams like Penn State, UCLA and Western Oregon to name a few.
Rockhill has been platooned at offensive tackle the last three years. The Dinos went 7-1 in their 2011 CIS regular season and improved to 8-0 when UBC had to forfeit all their games because of an ineligible player. They went on to win the Hardy Cup (Canada West title) for the fourth straight year, but saw their campaign come to a disappointing end with a 41-10 loss to the defending national champion, Université Laval Rouge et Or, in the Vanier Cup semifinals.
“It was unfortunate, but hopefully next year we’ll be able to overcome them.”
As for the brothers in football, Brandon, 23, graduated from U of C last year, but Rockhill boys got to play together on the same team for three seasons.
“It definitely made it convenient for us both moving there (to Calgary),” said Carson, adding, “we didn’t know anybody … 6 a.m. workouts … it’s a lot easier when your brother has the key to your room.”
“Right now my mentality is just to hold my own and see how I fit in that environment … I’d like to get a little bit of attention there if I can,” he conceded, then made the point “the most (people) I’ve ever played in front of was about 22,000 and that was pretty crazy, so I can’t imagine what this is going to be like.”
Asked his take on what Rockhill brings to the table, Dinos’ head coach Blake Nill had great things to say about the Oceansider he says, “plays with a bit of an edge.”
Nill is in his sixth season with the Dinos, and he was head coach of the St Mary’s University Huskies in Halifax for eight years prior to that.
As the story goes, it was while he was with the Huskies that he recruited Brandon to play for him. When he took the job in Calgary, Brandon transferred to U of C as well.
“I went to St. Mary’s because of Blake — he runs the closest system to American football in the country,” said Brandon, who is back in town for a while.
Brandon, said coach Nill, did a good job selling him about his not-so-little brother.
“We were really lucky to have Brandon on the program, and we’re really lucky to have Carson … we could have lost Carson to a school on the west coast easily, so we were fortunate. Carson has two years of eligibility left … if I could get him for one more I’d be extremely happy.”
Injuries cut Brandon’s football career short, but he’s behind his brother 100 per cent.
“Oh yeah … I told him the first couple days down there they’re going to try and get in his head. I told him they’re Americans and football’s their life but that he can handle whatever they put in front of him.”
“He was a big lanky kid when he came here,” said Nill, adding the 6’6” Carson weighed around 240 pounds in his rookie season with the Dinos.
Fast forward to today and he’s still 6’6”, but now tips the toledoes at 300 pounds.
“The kid is a terrific athlete and he’s worked hard over the last four years,” said Nill. “He’s a big strong athlete now, and he’s very highly touted among the pros. I would not be surprised if Carson is a first round draft pick in the CFL draft this year. Not only has he grown physically, he’s also matured. He’s become more responsible, he’s a good student … he’s done really well on and off the field.”
Carson, Nill said, “is physically ready and he’s mentally ready to play against these U.S. college guys. He’ll be fine and he’ll hold his own. For sure.”
As for big number 66; “There’s going to be some big lads down there but I think I’ll do alright,” Carson said, paused, then made the point, “this is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
He flew out of Calgary for Little Rock 6 a.m. Monday morning.