July 21st, 2024

Argos defensive back Stiggers invited to participate in East-West Shrine Bowl game

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on January 17, 2024.

Toronto Argonauts defensive back Qwan'tez Stiggers (42) intercepts a pass by Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Dustin Crum (18), and is defended by Ottawa Redblacks wide receiver Siaosi Mariner (82) during first half CFL action, in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Qwan’Tez Stiggers will be playing pro football in 2024. He just doesn’t know where yet.

The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback was the CFL’s top rookie last season with the Toronto Argonauts and remains under contract with the club. However, Stiggers is also eligible for the ’24 NFL draft and certainly has caught the eye of scouts south of the border.

He’ll have another chance to impress. On Wednesday, Stiggers was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl on Feb. 1 in Frisco, Texas.

A solid performance there could land Stiggers an invitation to the NFL combine, slated for Indianapolis from Feb. 29 to March 3. The draft goes April 25-27 in Detroit.

Stiggers will be one of over 120 participants at the Shrine Bowl. Players will be split into two teams and coached by two yet unspecified NFL staffs.

Last year, coaches with the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons handled those duties.

Last week, Argos GM Mike ({Pinball) Clemons suggested if Stiggers was drafted by NFL club that Toronto would allow him to pursue a career south of the border.

Predictably, the invitation hasn’t changed Stiggers’ off-season mindset.

“No, I’m just taking things day by day right now,” he said via telephone from his off-season home in Atlanta. “I’ll be honest, it (NFL) has never been the dream.

“My dream growing up the way I did was, ‘Don’t be a failure.'”

Stiggers finished high school in 2020 and had committed to Wayne College in Tennessee on scholarship. But that all changed in September 2020 when Stiggers’ father died about eight months after being involved in a car accident.

“I went through a real depressing time,” Stiggers said. “I was in a dark place.”

One of Stiggers’ brothers was also left as a quadriplegic the result of spinal cord injury suffered playing football. But Stiggers credits his fiancée, Cheyenne, and mother Kwanna, with helping him break through his depression.

“They made me open up,” Stiggers said. “I’ll say this right now, I’m very thankful for my fiancée and mother because if it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would’ve been able to shake free from the dark place I was in.

“I was the kind of person who held everything inside and never let it out. But my fiancée and mom played a big part in me opening up and expressing my feelings and thoughts.”

Stiggers also took to helping provide for his fianceé, their one-year-old son, his mother and 12 siblings.

“It (father’s passing) has made stronger, wiser, and helped me with my frustration,” Stiggers said. “My father was in hospital on a ventilator for a long time.

“After he passed, it was like, ‘OK, he’s not struggling anymore. He’s in a better place.'”

It was at his mother’s urging that Stiggers returned to football in 2022, playing in the Fan Controlled League. It’s a seven-man indoor circuit that features no kicking or special teams and lets fans call plays.

Despite being its youngest player, Stiggers had five interceptions to finish tied for the league lead. His coach was John Jenkins, a former Argos offensive assistant who recommended Stiggers to the CFL team.

Stiggers arrived to Toronto’s training camp under the radar, but it didn’t take him long to get noticed.

“We felt good about him based on what we’d seen and the potential he had but we didn’t think it would happen this fast,” said Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. “I didn’t know much about him in training camp other than he’d been out of football and we were taking a flyer on him but about a week in, all of the coaches were talking very highly of him.”

There were several Canadian football nuances Stiggers had to adjust to. He said he didn’t understand how much bigger the field was until Dinwiddie had Argos players run gassers during camp.

Stiggers registered a team-high five interceptions and 56 tackles in 16 regular-season games. He helped Toronto’s defence rank first in interceptions (27), forced fumbles (22) and fumble recoveries (15, tied with Hamilton) and fewest big plays allowed (30).

While Toronto coaches were surprised with Stiggers’ play, he really wasn’t.

“I was just happy to be there, happy to make the team but when my time came to step up, I stepped up,” he said. “I think it was just seeing what I’m capable of and once I did, I put it all out.”

Stiggers said winning the CFL’s top rookie award was humbling.

“To have something like that be forever carved in stone in the CFL is mind-blowing because it takes a lot to do that,” he said.

Stiggers isn’t concerned about having to re-acclimate himself to American football. He feels the basics of the game remain the same on both sides of the border.

“Competition is competition and no matter what level it is, football is football,” he said. “I feel like if it came down to it, I could cover God.”

Dinwiddie wouldn’t be surprised to hear Stiggers’ name called in April.

“If you look at what he did in the small sample size he had with us . . . I don’t know how you bypass an opportunity to make him part of your football club,” Dinwiddie said. “I think the kid did enough to warrant a draft pick.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.

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