Canadian star focused on earning Bears job

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When Mathieu Betts was selected by the Edmonton Eskimos with the third overall pick in the CFL draft Thursday night, he was sitting in a Bears team meeting.

With his phone turned off, the news didn’t reach the star pass rusher from Laval University in Quebec City until 30 minutes later when he left Halas Hall and boarded a bus that transports Bears rookies to a local hotel.

“It’s a weird feeling because you worked so hard to get there and you don’t appreciate it,” said Betts, an outside linebacker who is participating in the Bears rookie minicamp after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent.

“But the main goal for me is to stay with the Bears. I want to do the best I can with the Bears. [The Eskimos] are totally aware of the situation. Maybe one day I’ll be able to play with [Edmonton]—I would love it—but for now my feet are here. The plan for me is to be a Bear as long as I can.”

A Montreal native who is fluent in English and French, Betts won two Canadian college national championships at Laval. He was named the top rookie in Canadian college football in 2015 after leading the nation with 12 sacks and was voted the country’s top down lineman each of the last three seasons.

Betts finished his college career with 35.5 sacks and was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the CFL draft by the league’s scouting bureau. He may have been selected with the top pick in the draft if he hadn’t signed with the Bears. But the 6-3, 250-pounder is opting to pursue an NFL career because it’s “the best league.”

“Until anyone else proves it any other way, that’s where I want to be,” Betts said. “The tradition here is second to none. The whole plan is to bring a championship back to Chicago. That’s the end goal.”

Betts boosted his chances of landing with an NFL team with an impressive performance at the East-West Shrine all-star game in January, especially during practices. Draft analyst Tony Pauline wrote that Betts “turned heads every day. He displayed unbelievable quickness with an incredible first step off the snap. Offensive tackles who had a significant size advantage over the Canadian found him difficult to block.”

“That was huge,” Betts said. “For me, that was the way to showcase my abilities, hopefully get some attention from scouts, especially from down here in the U.S. I think I had a good week. [But] that’s all in the past. I’m here right now. It’s really up to me to be able to adapt to my new position and show that I can play fast and learn the playbook pretty quickly.”

The Bears further evaluated Betts in March when they were reportedly one of five NFL teams to attend his Pro Day workout at Laval in Quebec.

Betts is confident that he can compete at the highest level and is eager to prove that he belongs, beginning this week at Bears rookie minicamp. When asked about his strengths, he mentioned his effort, motor and pass-rush ability.

“I want to show that I can do a bunch of things here,” Betts said. “We’re a team now. We’re competing for a roster spot, but I want to help out everybody the best way that I can to show them I’m here for a good reason and help the Bears win.”

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