Evolving into a football all-star: the evolution process for Fredericton's Dave Skillen, left, into an Atlantic University sport all-star with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men last season and a pro prospect with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes began when he played at Fredericton High School for three seasons getting the benefits from the coaching of, second from left to right, Larry Wisniewski, Lee Hoyt and Donny Davis, who is now an assistant coach at St. FX. Skillen, who plays defensive end, leaves June 1 for Montreal where he'll attend the Als camp.
Pro dream that much closer
Skillen | X-Men all-star earns tryout with CFL's Alouettes

By Dave Ritchie

Fredericton's Dave Skillen has long had the dream of playing professional football in the Canadian Football League.

But now that he's closer than ever to realizing that dream, he's got a down-to-earth approach to what he views as the ideal scenario emanating out of a tryout opportunity with the Montreal Alouettes.

The 21-year-old Skillen, who played three seasons at Fredericton High School before going to St. Francis Xavier University where he's spent the last four seasons, leaves Monday for the Alouettes training camp that begins in earnest Wednesday with the rookies showing what they can do.

At 6'3'' and 240 pounds, Skillen is looking to make the grade as a defensive end even though he's also got linebacking experience with St. FX. In fact, he played the better part of two seasons alongside his brother, John, as an outside linebacker with the X-Men with John playing inside.

"He's two years older than I am and until we got to St. FX, we had never played on the same team together,'' says Skillen. "It was neat lining up beside him. When I first went there, I was on the defensive line, but the coach brought in a lot of defensive lineman the next year so I ended up playing alongside my brother.

"We push each other on the field and in the off-season (working out) and I think that's made us both better players. So yeah, we've got the sibling rivalry thing going.''

Last season, Dave moved back to defensive end, earning all-star status in the Atlantic University Sport Conference, and a nomination as an All-Canadian. He was also named the X-Men defensive player of the year as voted on by his teammates. "It's pretty special when you get an award like that from your teammates,'' he says.

His play, and his performance at the CFL combine held at Laval University in early March, generated enough interest from the Alouettes that they've offered him a three-year deal with options to attend their rookie camp.

He has earlier been one of several AUS players invited by the Calgary Stampeders organization to attend a combine staged in Halifax. At the combine, players are tested through any number of drills including the 40-yard run, bench press, lateral quickness, one-on-one, etc.

Skillen said he didn't get a lot of feedback from officials at either combine, but because he had been invited to Halifax, fully expected his name to be called by the Stampeders during the May 2 entry draft. Alas, it was not to be.

"I was pretty excited about the draft and I really thought they (Stampeders) would take me. When it didn't happen, I wondered about what kind of interest there was out there.''

He says it wasn't long after that he got a call from the Alouettes, and has been "busting my ass'' ever since working out under a training regiment set up in part by Bob Chisholm, who is the strength and conditioning coach at St. FX.

Skillen's workout partner in town is former FHS quarterback Andrew Hickey, who'll be suiting up at the University of Waterloo this season after transferring from Mount Allison University. The two played touch football together, struck up a friendship and have worked out together for the past two off-seasons.

Accompanying Skillen to the Alouettes' camp are three of his teammates from St. FX including defensive end Yahia Dalloul, tight-end Jeremy Marchand and cornerback Kwasi Nkansah. In all, seven players off last year's X-Men squad are attending CFL training camps.

While he's excited about the chance, Skillen fully expects to return to St. FX for his fifth season and to finish up his degree, majoring in finance. In fact, he says the best-case scenario would be to show the Als enough to keep them interested in having him become a full-time regular for the 2010 season.

"I want to go there, show them what I've got, and have them tell me what I need to work on,'' he says. "The fact they've offered me a three-year deal shows me they're interested. The ideal is to return to St. FX, finish up my fifth year there, graduate and then be ready to play full-time for the 2010 season (with the Alouettes).''

Of course, that could change if he shows enough at the camp that the Als want to keep him around. Skillen doesn't want to make the grade early on, sit for the most part and then suddenly get cut mid-way through the schedule.

"They can let you go at any time,'' he says. "It'd be a tough decision. I'd have to see how much interest they would have in keeping me around for the entire season. And a lot of that depends on how much I get to play. I'd hate to make the team and then get cut in August and have it screw up the chance of playing my fifth year at St. FX.''

He says if he does stick with the Als, he'll finish up his degree possibly taking a couple of courses at McGill and then return to St. FX in the summer to finish what he needs in order to graduate.

Editor's Note: Dave began his football career in 2002 with CAMFA's Fredericton Junior Black Kats.