By Perry Lefko

Trey Rutherford knows he’s going to play professional football. He’s just doesn’t know whether it will be in the United States or Canada.

The 22-year-old Markham native will find out in late April if he has been drafted by the National Football League or possibly signed as a free agent. He knows the interest will definitely be strong in the Canadian Football League. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive lineman is currently rated as the second overall prospect. The CFL draft is in early May.

Whatever happens, it has been an incredible journey for Rutherford, who will be one of the few products from Markham to play pro football. His journey has taken him from his home town, where he played from age eight to 13 with the Markham Raiders, then playing in Scarborough while attending Villanova College Middle School in King City, and, at age 16, leaving home to continue his education and football development at Kent College in Connecticut. That earned him a scholarship at the University of Connecticut.

“It’s been a long process, a lot of sacrifice, leaving home at 16,” he said. “Doing whatever it takes, getting exposure. I’ve had a ton of support. My parents did whatever it took, driving down to Connecticut. Ultimately it comes down to whatever you have in you. I’ll be blessed to play for whoever wants me.

“Sometimes it’s a little surreal,” he added with a laugh, thinking how far he has come as a football prospect. “There’s so many opportunities, all because of the game of football. It’s given me a lot of things. Everything I’ve done, I’ve earned it. I’ve been to three different high schools. Every move I’ve made has been to get more exposure and have better chances of making it at this level. Everything’s been calculated.”

He admitted that some of his American teammates have asked him about his roots. Suffice to say, Markham isn’t exactly well known, although hockey superstar Steven Stamkos and Olympic bronze medallist Andre De Grasse have helped put the city on the map.

“I don’t think anyone down there has ever heard of Markham,” he said of his teammates. “Certainly being a Canadian down there shows our football may be a little bit different, but it’s all the same game.”

Trey’s father, Fred, said it’s hard to describe what it means for him and wife, Yvonne, to see their son on the cusp of becoming a pro athlete.

“To me, he’s still a little kid putting on his helmet for the first time,” Fred said. “As a family we’re extremely proud to support Trey 100 percent. We realized at very young age he had a hunger to play at the highest level possible.

“He started with the Markham Raiders minor football organization and had a great first year and had a great coaching staff. It was a ton of fun and that’s where we saw his talent at a young age. He played soccer and kind of ran over a couple kids, so football was the way to go. It wasn’t until high school that he played at his own age group.

“Trey was determined to play the game. He not only has the size, but the drive to excel and always play at the highest level. I’m excited for him. It was a lot of struggle along the way. From the time he got started to the time he finished (collegiate ball), he’s had four offensive line coaches. That’s staggering at the college level. You can get away with that in high school, but in college it’s almost devastating for an O-lineman. Trey hung in there. He played in every single year. He played more and more every year. We’re all extremely proud as a family what he’s been able to accomplish and what he’s going to accomplish in the future.”

Fred Rutherford said there is enough of understanding of what his son has accomplished throughout his four years in Division 1 football, along with a chance to showcase his skills in front of NFL and CFL scouts at a Pro Day at the University of Connecticut, that he will get a good look.

“He’s far from raw, and that’s speaking only as a father, he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be (talent-wise),” Fred said. “From what I understand, in regards to football scouting, he measures up really good. He’s just got to work on his second level killer instinct. If there’s any knock it would just be that aspect of coaching consistency. To be effective in four different schemes over four years that’s tremendous. Most kids can lock into one scheme for four years and just thrive. He was playing as a very green 18-year-old. It was kind of a shocker, but he persevered and he pushed through it and to me he put himself into a good spot. He really exemplified a special manner from a very young age and I think a lot of that had to do with he’d gone away (from home) to go school. There’s a responsibility of minding your Ps and Qs and that you’re respectful of people’s time.”

Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut