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THE MOJ: B.C. linemen drawing eyes south of border ahead of NFL draft

UBC’s Giovanni Manu and Theo Benedet are massive human beings attracting attention
UBC offensive linemen Giovanni Manu (left) and Theo Benedet (right) are both up for the NFL Draft which takes place this weekend. The pair is shown here during Hardy Cup Finals action in Vancouver, Nov. 11, 2024. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

The first thing you notice about UBC offensive lineman Giovanni Manu is his size.

To use some modern football vernacular, he’s a dude.

At 6’7” and 350 pounds, he looks like he could steamroll right over you. He also looks like he could dunk a basketball with ease.

Theo Benedet, the two-time J.P. Metras Award winner as the best offensive lineman in CIS football, is no slouch either when it comes to passing the eyeball test.

He’s 6’7’ and ‘only’ 295 pounds.

And people have noticed the pair, particularly south of the border.

National Football League teams have been scouting the duo and this weekend we will find out that level of interest as the NFL Draft takes place April 26 through 28.

Manu, a Pitt Meadows Secondary grad, has drawn a lot of interest from NFL teams especially since UBC held its Pro Day March 29th at B.C. Place Stadium when he, Benedet and seven other UBC players worked out for over 20 teams from the NFL and CFL.

Make no mistake, they were there to check out Manu and Benedet.

The pair didn’t disappoint when it came to their test results either.

Both put up numbers that would have ranked among the elite NCAA offensive linemen that participated at the NFL Combine that took place in Indianapolis from February 29th to March 3rd. Manu was clocked at 5.03 in the 40-yard dash with a 33.5 inch vertical leap. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds for 23 reps.

Benedet was timed at 5.14 seconds in the 40-yard dash with a 34.5 inch vertical and bench-pressed 225 for 23 repetitions.

Both athletes credit UBC Strength and Conditioning coach Joe McCullum for the strides they’ve made in the weight room since first arriving at the Point Grey campus.

“I think the obvious thing that stands out for me physically is just being able to work with Joe McCallum” responded Benedet in terms of where he was as a freshman recruit from Handsworth Secondary to where he is now.

“In my opinion, he’s the best that there is. I’ve added 60 pounds basically of lean muscle mass, so I think that’s been the first thing that’s really been added to my game but it’s also understanding how to train to be a football player a lot better than when I came in,” said Benedet.

The physical measurables are imperative when it comes to getting a shot in the NFL.

You can be recognized as an All-Star or award winner but if you’re not a certain height, weight or have a 40-time that meets the standard, you’re pretty much kicked to the curb.

I’ve never been a fan of that but it’s a fact of life when it comes to football.

Both of these athletes have the measurables to get drafted…or at worst to get an NFL training camp invite.

But what also bodes well for the pair is the coaching they received this past season from UBC offensive line coach Dan Dorazio.

Yes, that Dan Dorazio – the former o-line coach for Wally Buono in Calgary and B.C. who spent over two decades each in the NCAA and CFL and is well respected on both sides of the border.

“He’s a great o-line coach. He taught me the real way to play the game as an offensive lineman. He taught me that you can’t be passive – you’ve got to be aggressive,” said Manu.

Both players agree that Dorazio not only taught them the finer techniques of offensive line play but to look – and understand – the big picture from an offensive perspective.

“I think what helped me long term is just his knowledge of the game and schematics in the box and on the line of scrimmage. He taught us what the defense is doing schematically and how they’re trying to attack our offense and what kind of cues I can take based off that to play with more anticipation. I just think my general football IQ has gone through the roof having been able to work with him,” stated Benedet.

Benedet has had interest from Buffalo (he recently worked out for the Bills in Toronto) and both New York teams as well as Indianapolis, where he actually flew in for a ‘Top 30’ visit (NFL teams are allowed to invite up to 30 players to their complex for meetings but teams are prohibited from working out players).

Manu, meanwhile, has seen his world change since the UBC Pro Day.

He was on the road for 11 days straight afterwards, visiting the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals among others.

“It was amazing. It was great to see coaches and people that I grew up watching on the sideline on TV and now I’m seeing them face-to-face and they’re asking me how I approach the game and just wanting to get to know me as a person off the field,” said Manu.

Among the luminaries?

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell.

“Jerry Jones - it was great to have dinner with him and just meet him at the facility. It was about a 40-minute interview at the facility with him and the Cowboys front office people. They just wanted to get to know me as a player and as a person off the field and basically my whole backstory,” explained Manu.

As for Campbell, Manu got a chuckle out of meeting him as he reminded him of UBC Head Coach Blake Nill.

“He was a great guy. I was just talking with Coach Nill and told him if you two happen to meet each other one day, you guys are going to become best buddies right away,” laughed Manu.

When the NFL Draft does take place this weekend, both players will be with their respective families.

Whether it’s getting drafted or getting signed as a free agent, they will take a moment to look back at the journey and reflect.

For Manu, it will be about how his mother sent him to British Columbia from his native Tonga to live with his aunt to hopefully get an education (he is five courses short of his sociology degree which his mom says he must finish). He’ll think about that day as an incoming freshman when Nill, who he calls a father figure, told him if he applied himself over the course of the next four years, he could be an NFL lineman.

Benedet will look back and remember how he started to believe he could have a future in football when his coach at Handsworth – ex-SFU and CFL linebacker Richard White – told him he could do something with the game, and as Benedet said, ‘opened his eyes.’

Both will look back at their time at UBC and remember what Nill, Dorazio, McCallum and all the other people associated with the program have done for them.

They’ll both be relieved knowing that this part of their journey is over.

They might enjoy themselves for a day or two but after that the real work will begin as they prepare for the next part of their journey.

I, for one, am excited to see where it goes.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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