When looking for a cornerback who can play on the boundary in the NFL, teams like players with confidence who aren’t afraid to engage in physical contact.
Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste is a prospect who fits that bill. A lengthy defender from Canada, St-Juste is looking to carry over the momentum he built for himself at the Senior Bowl to the next level.
The Draft Network recently spoke exclusively with St-Juste about his competitive mindset, his preparations for the draft, his experience at the Senior Bowl, and what he brings to the table as a potential draft pick.
JM: You’re from Quebec, Canada. I’m a fellow Canadian. What are your earliest memories of falling in love with the game?
BSJ: I have to give credit to my dad. My father was a two-sport athlete. He competed professionally for team Canada and team Quebec. He played basketball and football. He got invited to participate in training camp with the Miami Hurricanes back in 1986 as a safety.
I always wanted to be like my pops. I fell in love with football while watching his highlights. I always enjoyed watching him play the game on VHS tapes and whatnot (laughs).
Eventually, he started to run me through some defensive back drills. I’ve always wanted to be just like him. The rest is history.
JM: I love that. You went to high school in your hometown. I’m curious, why didn’t you go to high school in the USA? And did people ever doubt that you could make it professionally because you stayed in Canada for high school?
BSJ: Yup, that definitely happened. Back in my high school days, there weren’t many guys that chose to stay at home. Not many of them made it to a D-I college. Everybody was going to a prep school. That was the new wave or trend.
For whatever reason, I stayed away from the prep school route. I wanted to stay home. I always thought I could become a better player and prospect while staying in Canada. I wanted to be that one kid that could prove to everybody that you could make it by staying home and playing high school football at Cegep du Vieux [in Montreal, Canada].
You don’t see many people from my area make it to a D-I school, or to the NFL for that matter. I was definitely doubted. I was definitely criticized for staying home. A lot of people thought I wouldn’t make it. I was told I wasn’t good enough. I was told I should have gone to the USA.
It was good to see how far I came by staying home and playing ball in Canada. There’s not that many of us that do it.
JM: There’s no doubt about it. I read somewhere that you didn’t start speaking English until you were 17. Is that accurate? Being a fellow Canadian, I know that French is the first language in Montreal. It would make sense. Is that why you didn’t speak English?
BSJ: When we talk about speaking English, of course I knew and understood English to a certain extent. I took an English class in high school so I was decent, but I wasn’t fluent. When coaches started to visit me from out of town, my English wasn’t good enough to hold a full conversation.
Once I started getting recruited at the age of 16, I received my first offer, that’s when I really dove in and began working on improving my English. That’s when I started to get comfortable holding an entire conversation in English.
Like you said, French is the native language in my hometown of Quebec. I went to school in French. My parents still speak French in our household. They don’t speak English well. It was definitely a bit of a transition for me.
JM: That’s great. You began your college football career at Michigan before eventually transferring to Minnesota. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on that decision, how do you look back on it?
BSJ: I was a young player when I first arrived at Michigan. I got hit with a tough injury. It wasn’t a great situation. The relationship with the coaches that originally recruited me started to tail off a bit.
Managing all that, I made the big decision to leave after I got my degree. That was a lot for me at that age. I didn’t have my parents with me. I wasn’t in my home country. I didn’t have any mentors or coaches to really help me navigate that decision. I had to do everything on my own.
It was tough in the beginning. I spent many nights wondering if I made the right decision. I felt like maybe I wanted to stay at Michigan.
When I look back on it now, everything worked itself out. My career took off in Minnesota. I took things into my own hands and made something positive happen for myself.
That’s the reason I am where I am today. I had to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. It was a great decision.
JM: The fact that you’re going through this process right now is all the proof you need. You recently competed at the Senior Bowl. What was that experience like?
BSJ: That was an amazing experience. It was crazy. I was actually scheduled to go to the Hula Bowl instead. I was getting ready for that. All of my equipment had already been shipped to the Hula Bowl.
And then Jim Nagy called me the week before the Senior Bowl and asked me if I wanted to head down to Mobile, Alabama to compete. I told him, “hell yeah” (laughs). I had been waiting for that call. I was hoping for an invite. I was super hyped.
I went down there and had a lot of fun. I already knew a lot of the guys that were out there. It was nice to be around all those great players. We had so much fun competing with one another.
Both coaching staffs were excellent. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers did a great job. Most importantly, I got better. I received some great coaching and I became a better player. I had a lot of fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
JM: Who were some of your favorite receivers to do battle with at practice?
BSJ: Cade Johnson from South Dakota State was pretty good. Dez Fitzpatrick and Nico Collins also come to mind.
JM: You’ve spent most of your time at cornerback, but you also took a few reps at safety in Mobile. Tell us about that.
BSJ: A lot of my tape is at cornerback so that is how I am mostly being evaluated right now. But I did play some safety at the Senior Bowl, just like you said. I gave all 32 teams a little glimpse of my versatility. If they want me to play at safety in certain packages at the next level, I can handle that. I have the skill-set to move around. I can play nickel, strong safety, cornerback, or free safety. For me, versatility is clutch.
JM: How did your team meetings go at the Senior Bowl? Did you get a great vibe from any of the teams in particular?
BSJ: I met with every team at the Senior Bowl for 15-minute increments. That was great. I feel like there were certain teams that showed a little more interest in me. Certain teams like those bigger corners. Teams like the Seahawks, 49ers, and Steelers seem to like that bigger corner profile. I noticed that throughout my meetings. They like my body type and my versatility. They showed a little more interest right off the bat. I could feel it.
I’m in the process of setting up all of my other meetings now, It’s a new era of draft preparation with COVID-19. We’re all going through it virtually. We’re getting all of that set up with teams right now. I’ll be jumping on Zoom and whatnot.
JM: You’d be a great fit for any of those teams. Speaking of that profile, you’re so long and physical. You’ve made a lot of pass break-ups throughout your career thanks to that length. You’ve always used that to disrupt the catch point.
BSJ: People may not think that it’s everything, but I think it is. I’ve seen a lot of cornerbacks that can’t make the same plays that I make because they don’t have the length that I do. It’s a game of inches, like everybody always says.
These NFL offenses are so good nowadays. Quarterbacks are throwing the ball more accurately and precisely than ever before. If you don’t have the length to drive on an out route, for example, you’re in trouble. I can do that with my length. I can get my hands on the football in a jump-ball situation in the red zone. My arms are long enough and I can jump high enough.
It helps me throughout those crucial situations. It’s a game between the receiver and cornerback nowadays. There are so many elite quarterbacks in today’s NFL. You need to have long corners in today’s game. That length helps me recover and make plays on the ball that other corners can’t make.
JM: We’ve seen it on tape. I love that. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, what kind of impact is Benjamin St-Juste going to make at the next level?
BSJ: I’m going to bring all of the hard-working attributes that I possess with me to the next level. I created a lot of good habits and values in college. I believe that I’ve set myself up for success. I’m gonna double down on those things. When it comes to versatility, I can play multiple positions. I’m an elite competitor and a great teammate. I’m a leader.
I’ll bring my French skills to the NFL, too (laughs).