(CBS Local)- The 2021 NFL Draft is just weeks away and among the prospects hoping to hear their name called that weekend is University of Minnesota corner Benjamin St. Juste. The senior's path to this point has been different from the start, growing up in Canada, he says he was drawn to football because his dad played but also because it was an uncommon path.
"I started really playing Pop Warner when I was nine years old when I moved to the North Shore. I was in Montreal in the city and when we moved I started playing football. My dad played football and basketball at a high level and I just asked him, what is your favorite sport? He said football so, I just wanted to be like pops," said St. Juste in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "Obviously being from Canada, everybody plays hockey including myself. Playing football was the uncommon route and I wanted to be that kid that makes it out of Canada playing football instead of hockey, that's what drew me to the sport."
An uncommon path for a rare blend of size and speed at the corner position. At 6'3" and 202 pounds at his Pro Day, St. Juste posted a 4.51 40-yard dash time and 4.00 shuttle drill and 6.63 3-cone time.
St. Juste credits that lateral quickness to his base in playing hockey growing up and also for introducing him to the physicality that he would also see on the football field.
"For me, hockey really helped me with my agility, going side to side, stopping and braking and being quick on my feet," said St. Juste. "That's how I was able to put up great numbers in the short area drills."
Combined with his length, that lateral quickness saw St. Juste earn a scholarship first to Michigan, then to Minnesota when he decided to transfer to the Gophers program after the 2018 season. For a player coming from Canada, an area not covered by the usual 247Sports or Rivals recruiting sites, getting those offers was no easy feat. But, once on campus, he was able to prove he belonged.
Over 15 games the last two seasons with the Gophers, he recorded 62 total tackles, 1.5 for loss and 11 pass break ups. And, in practice every day, he squared off with teammate Rashod Bateman who is considered to be among the top receivers in this year's class.
"It's a blessing because most of the time, my matchups against him, could be one-on-one, scrimmage, Oklahoma drills, or whatever, we were finding each other because we knew he was WR1 and I was CB1. Iron sharpens iron and we knew that we would get better," said St. Juste. "Most of the time, the matchups against him were better than the matchups I saw in the game so when I got in the game I was comfortable because I went against him the whole week in practice. He definitely got better, I got better so it was a mutual development and I'm grateful for that."
That development earned St. Juste a spot at the Reese's Senior Bowl earlier this year, something he says he's grateful to have gotten to participate in because it allowed him to get exposure to NFL coaching staffs and schemes. He followed up with the strong performance at Minnesota's Pro Day last week and now is looking ahead to the NFL. As he studies the next level he points to three guys in particular whom he watches to pick up on nuances of the position.
"Really like Jalen Ramsey's physicality and aggressiveness especially because he's the same kind of body type. I like Richard Sherman because he's a student of the game, very smart guy understanding offense," said St. Juste. "And Marlon Humphrey, run support guy, not scared to show up in the run game and go tackle people. Those three I try to look at them and their technique and their style of play."
Those role models play into what St. Juste says he will bring to any team that calls his name on draft night.
"They get a player that's competitive, that's tough, that's versatile," said St. Juste. "I feel like what separates me from a lot of guys in my draft class is my versatility. There are not that many corners that are 6'3" 200 some pounds that can move like me. That can play on all four special teams. That even played a little bit of safety at the Senior Bowl and can be moved around and I'm very coachable. I'm a sure pick. Any team that picks me, they shouldn't be like, 'Oh we don't know about this or maybe he has this.' It's a sure pick. Whatever team picks me, they get a baller."
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