Ackie, Mrabure-Ajufo and Pfeffer realize their CFL dreams

File photo by Heather Davidson

File photo by Heather Davidson

Last summer, three Wilfrid Laurier University football stars were launched into their professional careers.

Defensive back Chris Ackie and defensive linebacker Ese Mrabure-Ajufo were taken fourth and fifth respectively in the CFL draft while kicker/punter Ronnie Pfeffer signed with the Toronto Argonauts for a brief stint before ending up with the Ottawa Redblacks. This ended their prolific careers with the Hawks and sent them into a radically different lifestyle.

Ackie and Mrabure-Ajufo, who were drafted by the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions respectively, have both played sparingly in their first season in the CFL as they try to learn the ropes. Mrabure-Ajufo was taken aback at the atmosphere of professional football compared to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

“The first real game, we went out to Ottawa. I mean, that feeling I couldn’t even really describe it. It was close to the most insane thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. They had so many fans out there. I can’t even describe it. It was crazy,” he said.

Pfeffer was signed by the Argos after the regular season already begun. His very first challenge in his first game as an Argo was to kick a 50-yard field goal as a welcoming gift to the CFL.

“For me to be able to help them out with a 50-yard field goal [and] to be able to hit such a long field goal especially on your first kick, definitely brings a name to yourself in the CFL,” Pfeffer said.

For Ackie, once he got on the field, he too felt the rush of playing in front of thousands of fans.

“It was really exciting,” said Ackie. “My first game was in Winnipeg. I think running down after the first kickoff and making my first tackle in my very first kickoff, it felt great. Just doing what I love to do.”

Ackie racked up 128 tackles at Laurier and was a highly-touted prospect throughout his final year as a Golden Hawk. He attributes his current success to his time spent in the Laurier football program as he is a component of the Alouette’s special teams currently.

“I’d say it was the coaching,” he said. “I learned a lot from coaches when I was younger and from the older players. Some of the players are in the CFL now so I always lean on them for advice. That always comes back to help me a lot.”

Pfeffer also contributes his success to the Laurier coaches and players who helped him along the way.

“The coaches at Laurier were amazing, just knowing that they have your back and still be able to go to them and talk to them,” Pfeffer said.  “For example my kicking coach, coach John, [I was] able to still give him a call and talk to him and let him know about everything that is going on and how everything is working out. It’s just an amazing feeling and Laurier is like a family.”

“Every coach that have ever been there, they always have your back.”

After contributing 45 tackles at Laurier, Mrabure-Ajufo, like Ackie, has played mostly special teams this year, tallying one tackle so far while also finding time on the practice roster.

Ackie says the firm attention to detail at the professional level has been the most challenging part of his transition.

“Here they are really strict on foot work. The game is so much faster, you can’t get away with stuff you can do in university. The guys are just too skilled and too fast here that you can’t make little mistakes that cost you,” he said.

After four years of leading the defensive charge for the Golden Hawks, and aspiring to make it to the next level, the goals and dreams of these athletes are starting to resemble those of poised and professional athletes.

Mrabure-Ajufo is focused on mastering the every day mindset needed to play with the pros.

“I’m still transitioning into being a professional football player and I mean the whole mental aspect of the game and as well the physical aspect of the game is a big change from college football,” said Mrabure-Ajufo.

Ackie has his sights set on the CFL’s prized possession.

“Hopefully win the Grey Cup. Right now I’m not even really thinking about what I am going to do in the offseason right now I’m thinking about taking it week by week do what I can to win games,” he said.

–With files from Drew Yates

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