Jacob Scarfone Goes Back to the Books

The Guelph Gryphons took on the Laurier Golden Hawks at Alumni Stadium in Guelph last week.

After a disappointing 0-2 start to the 2017 season, the Gryphons elevated their play, battling to a middling 3-3 record. The Gryphons’ surge of three wins in four games — kick-started by the 81-10 drubbing of the lowly Windsor Lancers — left the team brimming with confidence. The Golden Hawks represented a formidable opponent, as Laurier entered the game with a 5-1 record and sat in an enviable second-place position in the competitive OUA standings.

The game began with neither team able to gain offensive traction, both mired in the defensive gridlock. The Gryphons ground to a 10-0 lead through the first half of play. The low-scoring first-half spotlighted Guelph kicker Gabriel Ferraro, who kicked and punted the Gryphons into a tenuous half-time lead.

The Gryphons had a clear game-plan to combat the Golden Hawk’s ball-hawking secondary: run the football.

Johnny Augustine, Guelph’s fifth-year running back, had 176 rushing yards on 31 carries – 12 more carries than his next highest total on the season. Theo Landers, Guelph’s third-year quarterback, rushed for 86 yards, just short of his passing total on the day. Despite pounding the ground with aplomb, neither player was able to find the end zone. Without a major score, the game remained very much in doubt.

That’s where Jacob Scarfone stepped in.

Scarfone was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the sixth round, 47th overall, in the 2017 CFL Draft. What’s impressive about his draft placement is that the Ticats selected Scarfone even though he was sidelined with injury for every down of the 2016 U SPORTS football season. To draft Scarfone in the sixth round is a resounding vote of confidence, and it suggests that he is a game-breaking talent.

And Jacob certainly broke open last Saturday’s game.

Laurier kicker Nathan Meshar missed a 39-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter. The ball angled wide of the uprights and plummeted 12 yards into the Guelph end zone, straight into Scarfone’s waiting hands. Scarfone ran out, broke tackles, exploded through holes, and returned the ball 122 yards for the touchdown. His individual effort blew the game wide open and the Gryphons never looked back, closing out the victory for their fourth win in five games.

But why was Jacob Scarfone, the 2017 CFL Draft pick, playing a U SPORTS game in the first place?

He attended Tiger-Cats training camp this year and fought for a spot on the roster. The Ticats had a sub-par start to the CFL season, coming out of the gate winless in their first eight regular season games. The team was in need of immediate help, and couldn’t afford to focus on development. The situation wasn’t exactly ideal for Jacob.

Typically, Canadian receivers spend at least one year of development on CFL rosters before they earn a starting spot. Former Marauder Danny Vandervoort was selected in the first round, third overall, of the 2017 CFL Draft. He was touted to be a top-receiving prospect but has since been used sparingly, recording just one reception in his first CFL season. Even one of the top Canadian receivers in CFL history, Andy Fantuz, was eased into his first season in the league, failing to earn a start until the tenth week of his rookie campaign. Unfortunately for Scarfone and the struggling Ticats, Hamilton was unable to grant a roster spot to a potential Fantuz-of-tomorrow. They needed help today.

This dilemma was handled with a strategy that Hamilton had blue-printed in the previous season.

In 2016, the Ticats released Laval receiver Felix Faubert-Lussier but retained his rights. Faubert-Lussier returned to Laval to play a fifth season of U SPORTS football and went on to win the Vanier Cup with Laval, at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton of all places. The Ticats opted to do the same with Scarfone in 2017, and Faubert-Lussier endorsed Scarfone’s decision to return to Guelph.

“For me, back in Laval will be my best years of football in my life,” said Faubert-Lussier. “I’ll cherish those moments, all the times, for all my life. For me, being able to have a fifth year there, to have another shot, to have another year with my boys. It was worth it.”

Jacob knew the potential upside, but it was still a difficult decision.

“Obviously being a pro is so tempting, especially with the Hamilton organization,” said Scarfone. “I really love being there, so it was an extremely tough decision.”

Ultimately, Scarfone was released, but the Ticats were certain to retain his rights. He chose to return to Guelph and play another year of Gryphons football. He wanted to further his development should the Ticats come knocking again, much like they did for Faubert-Lussier one year ago.

This year, Faubert-Lussier is starting games in his first full CFL season.

As for Scarfone, he believes his time in the pros has benefited his U SPORTS game.

“Absolutely, I feel like I already became a better player in the two-and-a-half months that I was there. There was a huge difference in the player I was at the start of camp and the player I was when I left,” he said.

Some players in particular helped Scarfone, including one notable U SPORTS alumnus.

“I had trouble getting out of my hook breaks,” remembered Scarfone. “Andy [Fantuz] really helped me with that. In five minutes, he cleared it up, and then I was doing it a lot differently.”

And his time in Hamilton was abound with similar learning moments.

“I mean, every practice I learned something that I’ll be able to transfer over to U SPORTS,” he added.

It seems to be paying dividends for both Scarfone and the Gryphons.

In 2017, Scarfone is averaging almost 150 all-purpose yards per game, split between 622 receiving yards and 405 punt return yards. He has six touchdowns in seven games – five receiving, and that electrifying kick return last Saturday against Laurier.

The Gryphons will need more of the same from their star player as they head into the looming OUA playoffs. So far, Scarfone’s CFL career has mirrored that of Faubert-Lussier’s. He was drafted by the Ticats, released by the Ticats, and welcomed back by his university team for a final season of development.

Scarfone hopes his final U SPORTS football season can end the same way too: with a Vanier Cup victory in Hamilton.