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Canadian linebacker Geoff Cantin-Arku preparing for 2024 NFL draft

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“I want to show I can be a dominant linebacker at any level,” Cantin-Arku said. “I will always make my way there like I always have.”

The six-foot-four, 235-pound linebacker could’ve remained at Memphis for one more year. However, following five seasons at two American universities (Syracuse and Memphis), Cantin-Arku feels ready to tackle his life-long dream of life in the NFL.

“We know we have a long road ahead but we know it’s going to be a successful one,” he said.

“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to play for two great programs.”

Cantin-Arku was a key player on a Memphis team that capped a 10-3 season with a 36-26 Liberty Bowl win over Iowa State on Dec. 29. The Tigers held the Cyclones to no rushing yards on 20 attempts with Cantin-Arku registering seven tackles (five solo, two for loss).

Iowa State ended its regular season Nov. 25 with 258 yards rushing in a 42-35 victory over No. 18 Kansas State. But before the Liberty Bowl, Memphis promoted linebacker coach Jordon Hankins to defensive coordinator after incumbent Matt Barnes left for Mississippi State.

“I feel like that was the best thing that happened to the Memphis program in a long time because (Hankins) plays an aggressive defence,” Cantin-Arku said. “He had a 3-3-5 scheme Iowa State didn’t expect.

“They were bigger than us and tried to run the ball down our throat but we didn’t let it happen because we were ready for it.”

It was a fitting end to a productive Memphis tenure for Cantin-Arku, a 2023 Cornish Trophy finalist as Canada’s outstanding NCAA player. Last season, the redshirt senior was second in tackles (79, 41 solo, 4.5 for loss) with a sack, interception, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

Overall, he had 144 tackles (76 solo, seven for loss), two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, a recovery and blocked kick in 25 career games.

Cantin-Arku spent his first three college seasons at Syracuse, registering 108 total tackles (79 solo, 10 for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 30 games (10 starts). He started as a sophomore but opted for the transfer portal after platooning as a junior.

“I went to Syracuse with one thing in mind: To make it to the NFL,” Cantin-Arku said. “In my junior year I started splitting reps … now you might tell me that’s still not too bad, but that’s not what I went there for.

“I went there to be a leader, I went there to be the best and I know I can’t do that if I’m not on the field.”

Over Cantin-Arku’s two seasons at Memphis, the team posted winning records each year and captured two bowl titles (they also beat Utah State 38-10 in the 2022 First Responder Bowl in). What’s more, he ended his college career as a significant contributor on one of the best squads in school history.

Cantin-Arku has certainly come a long way. He didn’t speak English when he left Quebec and worked diligently to learn while at Syracuse, with help from teammate Matthew Bergeron, an offensive lineman from Bromont, Que.

“Matthew was a little better than me with English,” Cantin-Arku said. “It was difficult, especially for someone who only spoke French but you have to push through that.

“To have Matthew with me and helping me was just a blessing. He has really helped me throughout my journey.”

And that continues today as Bergeron just completed his rookie season with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

Cantin-Arku feels his biggest strength as a player being a leader, both on a team and defence, something he said he did as a sophomore at Syracuse despite not being fluent in English. Cantin-Arku said while there’s always elements of his on-field game he works on, the most important is always trusting what he sees.

“When my eyes are right, I believe I can be one of the greatest linebackers in this country at this point,” he said. “It’s when I don’t trust my eyes and don’t do the little things that I don’t play my best.

“I can’t play my best football if my eyes aren’t right.”

Another strength Cantin-Arku believes he possesses is a strong work ethic, which he says he learned from his mother, Nancy Cantin. Cantin-Arku lost his father growing up and said his mother always sacrificed for her family.

“She is incredible,” he said. “This is a hard journey but I want everyone to know, yes, it is possible.

“You just have to be willing to put in the work.”

Growing up, Cantin-Arku’s sport of choice was hockey. However, when the financial commitments began to soar, he turned to football.

“It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” he said.

And while Memphis’s pro day seems so far away, Cantin-Arku said he’s good with it.

“I’ve been focused for years now so two months or so is nothing to me,” he said with a chuckle.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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