The chance to play football and make use of his opportunity has driven Canadian linebacker Deshawn Stevens to high heights at this point in his career.
The Maine Black Bears star from Toronto’s Rexdale area has excelled on every level he has played, regardless of whether it was in Canada or the U.S.
His motivation has carried him to being the 14th-ranked CFL prospect with eyes set on making the NFL, almost a full two years from the last time he played due to a ruptured achilles in 2019 and a cancelled 2020 season because of the pandemic.
“My motivation comes from being from the city,” Stevens said. “It started from my mom and my grandma. Grandma came to this country like many other families as an immigrant – they worked hard, every single day.
“Two beautiful black women that came over here and worked, humble people doing their thing. For me, you got to be passionate about the things you want to do, if you’re going to take it seriously, put your all into it.”
It was in eighth grade when Stevens first felt as though he could compete with American players, playing against them for the first time on the Canadian team.
He starred at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Toronto for his first three years of high school before transitioning to the U.S.
The transition down south
In 2014, he transferred to Kent School in Connecticut, spending two years there. With the move down south, came a transition and culture shock of its own though.
“It was literally night and day,” the Toronto native said. “Bosco was Bosco – we’re coming from barely having anything, having what we have and basically figuring out what you can do and manage the best you can.
“At Kent, while nothing is given to you, they have everything you need. The school part, I was struggling from the first day I got in because of the difference of going to school over there compared to Bosco. It was just something like that where I had to start from the bottom and work my way up – it was a culture shock.”
Eventually adapting to his situation, he thrived on the field, winning the Erickson Conference Defensive Player of the Year, making the All-New England team, and making it as an all-conference linebacker at Kent School.
In that time, he was the defensive MVP of the 2014 Canada Cup tournament playing for Team Ontario, a first-team all-star at the 2016 IFAF U19 World Championship tournament and played for Canada at the 2016 International Bowl series against the U.S. where he had six tackles in a loss.
All the accolades and work put in led to his committing to Maine University in February of 2016.
Following a redshirt season in 2016, he became a rotational linebacker in 2017, but managed to find his opportunity as a starter later in the year when an injury occurred.
In 2018, Stevens burst onto the scene in his first full year starting, finishing with 120 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and an interception.
His breakout year paved the way to him being named an All-CAA Second Team selection and voted as a 2019 preseason STATS FCS All-American Third Team pick and preseason All-CAA Team choice.
The injury that changed everything
Aug. 30 was the day. The second quarter of the Maine Black Bears season opener against Sacred Heart.
Rushing the passer, with the lineman leaning on him, he fell, feeling as though someone had just tripped him – instead, it was a ruptured achilles.
“It hurt, real talk – I put my life into this, I put everything I got into this. And to be told I just ruptured my achilles, it was like ‘this is for real?’ I didn’t see this coming; I didn’t anticipate this and sure enough, it did.”
A lengthy recovery process, having to endure the pain of losing multiple family members within a short span of time, and then to have the 2020 season cancelled by the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association), made for a difficult time for Stevens.
“[The cancellation] was another hard pill to swallow because I’m thinking, ‘I’m off this, I’m good to go and go after what’s next for me’ and then they say it’s cancelled,” Stevens said. “So, I’ve just been posted, humble, trying to keep calm and patient.
“It was an eye opener because it showed me that I’m healthy, but I still have work to do to get where I want to go, because I’m still not there yet.”
Putting the work in and dropping from around 260 pounds to currently being 245 pounds, Stevens is excited for spring camp at Maine to finally be able to play. On the other hand, he also has his invite to this year’s virtual CFL Combine.
With extra eligibility granted to him due to his injury and the pandemic, the choice now lies in his hands to stay at Maine, transfer elsewhere or leave for the CFL this year. With that in mind, Stevens plans to keep his options open even if he is taken in the CFL Draft, with a future in the NFL in mind.