Long and Winding Road

Long and Winding Road

Oshawa native Stefan Charles is the leading Canadian tackler in the NFL this season. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive tackle has five tackles and one sack for the Bills after four weeks.

Despite his size, Charles’ path to the pros was far from straightforward.

When Charles finished his high school football career in his hometown of Oshawa, no colleges on either side of the border offered him a chance to play.

Undeterred, he found his way onto a local weekend community-level team – the Ontario Varsity Football League’s Metro Toronto Wildcats. That led to a roster spot across the country, with the Canadian Junior Football League’s Surrey Rams. His hope was to get noticed by a Canadian University program, and advance his football career from there.

It was in Surrey, as reported in an Associated Press on Buffalobills.com, that Charles’ unwavering faith in himself began to pay off:

While spending days working in a tire factory, Charles met Dave Benefield, a former NFL and CFL player. Benefield helped Charles take a step up in competition by passing along his name to the coaches at the University of Regina.

It didn’t matter that Regina is more than 1,600 miles from Toronto. Charles was willing to do whatever it took to try and make it.
“I just wanted to do it,” Charles said. “I put so much time into football I didn’t want to watch it go through my hands. … I knew if I kept fighting something had to give.”

It was anything but smooth sailing once Charles made it to Regina. He worked as a janitor his first year, and was forced to sleep on the floor due to financial constraints his first 1 1/2 years at college.

“You look at all the great people that have had success, you get successful by taking risks and sacrifice,” Charles said. “You can’t just hope for things to happen.”

After working on his quickness, the 6-foot-5 Charles began to dominate his competition. He was first-team All-Canadian in his second season in the CIS.

His performance in Regina was enough to earn Charles a tryout with the Tennessee Titans. He was sitting on the team’s practice squad when the Bills came calling.

“They told me they were looking to bring me up there if I wanted to come,” Charles told the Associated Press. “I had talked to the Oakland Raiders, too, that same day, and I was like, ‘Man, this is perfect.’ It’s right close to home, my family, I had been away from my family for so long — five years.”

Stefan Charles with the CIS Regina Rams