May 12, 2016
ANN ARBOR – Of the 1,400 or so players who attended Michigan’s “Exposure U” football camp in Ann Arbor last June, Benjamin St-Juste was unique.
The Montreal product’s native language is French and his first sport was hockey. St-Juste also separated himself from the pack on the field during the four-day camp and was offered a scholarship on the spot – a shocking development given that he was basically an unknown recruit before arriving in Ann Arbor.
“When I went there, I said I’ll get better, I’ll get coached by good coaches, I’ll see the facilities and all that,” St-Juste recalled of the camp. “I wasn’t thinking of getting a scholarship, but when I got there I brought my ‘A’ game and they were really impressed with my talents and my abilities that I had and they said I think this kid has the talent to be on the team and they offered me.
“I was just shocked. It took me a couple days to realize I made it.”
One day after receiving an offer, St-Juste’s parents visited campus and the 6-foot-3, 190-pound three-star cornerback from Cégep du Vieux Montreal committed.
“They have everything that I want,” said St-Juste, who plans on enrolling early. “They have a good school, so a good education, the team is great, the coaches were great, the defensive scheme fits perfectly with what I’m doing. I said why not just commit when you’ve found the perfect place to go.”
MONTREAL TO MICHIGAN CONNECTION
St-Juste started playing football at age 9 – about a year after taking up hockey at a local arena – and surrounded himself with friends that liked the same sports. He also played basketball and had to make a decision about which sport he would take seriously.
“I was looking up to my dad and I asked him which sport he preferred between basketball and football,” St-Juste said of father, Wilbert, who also played football, “and he said ‘football’ so I said ‘football, me too.'”
Getting noticed, however, wasn’t easy for St-Juste, given his location.
“It’s really a hockey country,” he said of Canada. “They put a lot of money and exposure into the hockey players and not a lot of exposure and money in football. So, basically we have to spend our own money to do trips and go get exposure in the U.S. With school, we’re not organized to be recruited.”
There are also differences in the Canadian and American school systems, which led to St-Juste reclassifying from 2016 to 2017. A cégep is the first step of higher education in Quebec and when St-Juste arrived at du Vieux Montreal at age 16 he was competing against players four to five years older.
“The age difference initially when he came in – he had to close the gap there,” said du Vieux Montreal coach Cherif Nicolas. “He closed that gap pretty quickly and was able to start some games his freshman year. Then last year he came out and played the boundary corner for us, which is a key position obviously, like in the U.S., and he started with great success.”
Although Canada isn’t regarded as a hotbed for college football recruiting, St-Juste will be the fifth player from du Vieux Montreal to play for the Wolverines, according to Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library. He will join Deitan Dubuc (1998-2002), Emmanuel Casseus (2000-02), Alain Kashama (2000-03) and Renaldo Sagesse (2007-10).
“There’s a lot of pride there for what he did,” Nicolas said.
Sagesse, who is the defensive line coach at du Vieux Montreal, pulled St-Juste aside last summer to talk about Michigan. But, prior to committing, St-Juste was unaware of the history between his current school and future one.
“I didn’t really know all the guys that went to the University of Michigan,” he said. “It was really after I committed these players from my school started to reach out to me and said congrats and I had a chance to get to know them and know their career and their story.”
‘CLEAR ALL DOUBTS’
St-Juste’s commitment to Michigan coincided with a job interview his dad had in Grand Rapids. He said his parents will likely either relocate to Grand Rapids or London, Ontario, so playing close to them factored in his decision. So did Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
“The thing that is nice and cool about Jim is he’s really friendly,” St-Juste said. “He’s not just a coach. You have to respect him as a coach … but when you talk to him you can talk about any subject. He’s really friendly, he’s enthusiastic. … When he coaches something it’s fun and at the same time you learn a lot because he has a lot of experience.”
St-Juste, who plans on pursuing a career in video editing, realizes that being a football player from Canada will likely make his stand out at Michigan. It’s also something he embraces as a challenge.
“I think I have something to prove for all the doubts the people have on Canada, but I don’t think I have to prove something about me,” he said. “I think people will just consider me a great player. There will always be a difference between me and the Americans – I’ll probably get called the Canadian kid and all of that – but talent wise I don’t think there will be any difference or anything to prove about that. I think I’ll just fit in perfectly.”
St-Juste is a three-star recruit, the No. 123 cornerback and No. 1,180 overall player in the 2017 class, according to 247 Sports. However, his height – only one of the 122 cornerbacks ranked ahead of him is taller than 6-3 – makes him stand out.
“Obviously he’s one of those long corners who crowds the receivers with his limbs,” Nicolas said. “He’s long – long legs, long arms – he’s going to crowd the receiver, change up the timing and release and he can turn his hips and run. There’s no issue there.
“I think there’s no cap to what he can do. … I believe he has all the tools to have all the success he wants.”
Now almost a year after committing to Harbaugh, Michigan is still the only scholarship offer St-Juste holds. However, he has generated additional attention and was a standout performer at Nike’s The Opening regional in New Jersey on May 1. St-Juste posted a 4.64 40-yard dash time, a 3.93 in the 20-yard agility shuttle (tied for the best at the regional), a kneeling powerball toss of 39 feet and 34.9-inch vertical jump. Although he didn’t earn an invite to The Opening Finals, St-Juste’s 117.93 rating was the fourth-highest at the New Jersey regional and ranks 38th overall.
“The major point that I wanted to go do these camps is because my recruiting process was so quick nobody knew me,” St-Juste said. “I was a kid from Canada who committed to Michigan and all that ‘Is he good, is Michigan doing a good thing of keeping this guy?’ I need to go to these camps and clear all the doubts and show the people my abilities and my skills and say Michigan is getting a real good player.”