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Weathering Setbacks: Canadian UDFA DE Arnold Mbembe’s Journey from U Sports and NCAA to Arena Football

Arnold Mbembe is a unique prospect with experience adapting to multiple variants of football having played at the U Sports Level in Canada and at the Division II level in the States in college. He is now gaining professional experience playing arena football.

He was playing recently with the Amarillo Venom in the AIF. He has signed a new contract this past weekend to join the Frisco Fighters who are one of the top teams of the IFL.

Mbembe was expected by many to be selected in the 2023 CFL Draft but went undrafted. Despite the disappointment he still continued to find other avenues to play football and continue improving as a football player. The 6 foot 6 defensive end has also increased his weight from 243 pounds when he was at the CFL Combine in 2023 to now being at 260 to increase his effectiveness at the pro level.

Mbembe recently joined the Amarillo Venom in the AIF. He arrived to join the team by plane the same day that his first game took place on Sunday, April 14, and recorded a sack in the third quarter.

Mbembe is a rarity of a CFL prospect to have experience playing for both Canadian and American universities as well as having arena experience now. He was recently asked if he felt like his wide range of experience makes him more versatile.

“Exactly, exactly. That’s what it is for me like I always say, I’m versatile.” Mbembe responded. “As you can see in my tape, I played defensive end, defensive tackle. I do a lot of slants getting into the backfield. I do a lot of stuff because I want to learn to be the best football player.”

Collegiate Career

In his final season before entering college, Mbembe led his team in sacks with 5 and also had 26 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, and 4 batted passes. He drew the attention of some NCAA programs and was originally committed to playing for UMass but transferred to Laval as a result of coaching changes at UMass.

He joined Laval in 2019 where he played in 7 games recording 5.5 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup, and half a sack. After missing an opportunity to play in 2018, Mbembe again faced a year without a season when the 2020 season was canceled due to covid.

“When covid happened that’s when my whole university career kind of changed because I didn’t want to stay in Quebec City during the time of covid because people were dying and everything. I wanted to be with my family just in case there was any issues going on. By the grace of God, everybody’s healthy. But during that time I was thinking more about my family than football.”

Mbembe played in 6 games in 2021 for Carleton in the OUA in what was a shortened season. He recorded 6 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles, a tackle for a loss, a sack, and a pass breakup over the season.

Mbembe played his final collegiate season in the NCAA for the Lincoln Oaklanders in 2022 which started as an independent Division 2 program the year before. Lincoln had an intriguing season in 2022 as the team played all 10 of their games on the road against a mix of opponents from different levels. Out of those 10 games, 5 were against Division 1 FCS opponents, 3 against Division 2 opponents, a match against an NAIA school, and a Division 3 opponent. 2 of their matches against Division 2 opponents were against ranked teams including Davenport at number 20 and Grand Valley State who were ranked third in the nation.

Mbembe’s final season in 2022  was his most impactful. He recorded 30 tackles, had 7 batted passes, 6 tackles for a loss, and 6 sacks. His level of play earned an invitation to attend the Small College Showcase affiliate with the College Gridiron Showcase.

College Gridiron Showcase

Following his collegiate career, Arnold Mbembe was the only Canadian player invited to the Small College Showcase. Per the description of the event “Up to 10 -15 players may be selected by professional league scouts to attend the College Gridiron Showcase.” Mbembe was among the players invited to the big College Gridiron Showcase.

“The College Gridiron Showcase, I wasn’t on the map. I was just being one of the prospects that maybe they know, whatever. But once I got moved from the small showcase, I was the only Canadian from the small showcase. All the Canadians that were there, are all drafted.” Mbembe said. “All these guys had an opportunity at the CFL. So that’s why I was like, damn I didn’t get it, but I was just as good as them. And I’m proud of everybody! But it’s just like, the outsider’s on his way back. The underdog is on his way back.”

“That’s why I’m telling you, I just kept working. And I have no shame about being undrafted because I know that at one point if teams still try to give me an opportunity to play at the professional level then I know that I can still play the game. I feel good, I’m still in my prime, I’m 26.”

Out of the 11 Canadian players in attendance, only punter Dante Mastrogiuseppe was undrafted. The other 9 players in attendance were all selected. The Canadian players in attendance at the CGS who were drafted included:

DE Lake Korte-Moore (UBC, drafted 3rd overall by Saskatchewan) 

S Jonathan Sutherland (Penn State, drafted 5th overall by Montreal), 

LB James Peter (Ottawa, drafted 12th overall by Ottawa), 

DB Siriman Harrison Bagayogo (Guelph, drafted 14th overall by BC), 

OL Phillip Grohovac (Western Ontario, drafted 20th overall by Edmonton), 

WR Clark Barnes (Guelph, drafted twenty-fourth overall by Calgary), 

WR Jeremy Murphy (Concordia, drafted 26th overall by Winnipeg), 

DB Patrick Burke Jr. (Wilfrid Laurier, drafted 29th overall by Hamilton)

OL Anthony Vandal (Sherbrooke, drafted 72nd overall by Toronto).

CFL Combine and CFL Draft

Mbembe attended the CFL Invitational Combine in 2023. He ran a 4.97-second 40-yard dash, an 8.14-second 3-cone drill, and a 5.03-second shuttle. He also performed 10 reps on the bench (225 lbs), a 26.5-inch vertical, and an 8’6” broad jump.

He was projected to be drafted 20th overall on John Hodge’s 2023 Mock Draft 1.0 with 3DownNation. He was also projected to be the first player taken in the 4th round of’s 2023 Mock Draft 2.0. However, he was not selected in the CFL draft.

After the Draft

What was your mentality when you went undrafted to make sure that you didn’t get too discouraged? Because you seem very positive. What was your approach to make sure you did not get caught up in the negativity?

“So before the draft, I had a lot of my teammates in the league. Some guys that I played with, against with. When you saw all these guys getting in. They were sending me messages like are you ready to get drafted and everything. So you go over the border, you kind of think too far.” Mbembe explained.

“When I went undrafted I saw everything, the whole process of the guys going to training camp and everything. I was like I cannot just not play. I didn’t have no contract or anything. So I went and played semi-pro in Cold Lake in Alberta. And it was not like the best competition because it’s semi-pro. But for me, it was just to stay back in shape, continue playing football, continue hitting pads. And that’s the thing with people, when you don’t get the opportunity you want, people just give up and retire. They hang up the cleats.”

“A lot of people now today see what I’m doing, and tell me ‘Whoah how you keep doing it, how do you stay positive?’ But it’s not about staying positive it’s about you gotta keep playing. You gotta find a way to play. Like I thought I was going to play for the IFL when we first talked I was with Quad City, and I got cut. But then I got another opportunity. “

“It’s all about staying positive and understanding that if you know you’ve got it as a talent, you just gotta now work. To make sure that your talent doesn’t go unnoticed, but also your work ethic.”

“At the end of the day, it’s how much you work during the offseason how much you keep working, and how much you keep your body staying right. That’s the thing with me I kept my body going, I keep working, I keep playing football.”

“You gotta keep perfecting your craft. There were some moves that I didn’t use before, that now that I use I’m like damn I should have used this in the past but I didn’t. When I went undrafted it was more about fixing my technique, fixing the small stuff.”

“A lot of people from my draft class, after they went undrafted or cut their done, it’s over, they stopped playing football. I’m not saying that I would retire, but the fact that I keep playing football for the small amount of money that I get. The fact that I play football, that’s good with me. Because it’s like, I play the game and I’m in a position to make plays.”

“I keep getting in those leagues, the semi-pros,  the tryouts, I go everywhere, I spend my own money. I invest in my future. I invest in the next generation if I ever get kids. That’s why I always stay positive. Because I knew a kid that used to look up to me back then, and seen me go undrafted. Maybe it’s going to happen to him and he doesn’t know. But he can know that when he sees Arnold Mbembe, he can know that he didn’t give up. And that’s what it is with me I don’t give up. Because I love the game, I love my dream, and I’m still young.”

Adapting to the AIF and Increasing Versatility

In the AIF defensive ends must line up with their inside shoulder not further to the edge than the offensive lineman’s outside shoulder.

It’s interesting with the ruleset it’s building some skillsets comparable to defensive tackle. They could put you on the inside for a couple of plays if you are in the CFL in the future.

“Exactly so that’s the thing. Now that I know I can play multiple positions, I’m not saying I’ll play the nose but right now I’m at 260, I’m at 6’6 260. So I gained a good weight so I can play with the bigger boys. Before at the combine last year I weighed in at 243. So now I’m at 260. I think coaches will be more impressed with me at my size that I can still move the way I was. And also that I can play the 3-tech for some plays and then move back to the edge when they want me to do it as a natural spot. The thing is to be versatile in the game to get more opportunities to play. For me that’s the main thing that I was. In my last year of university in the States in Oakland I played 3-tech and defensive end the whole year. I’ve just been adjusting because I just love the game of football.”


Mbembe’s journey from U Sports, to the NCAA and now to arena football underscores a story of adaptability and dedication. He exemplifies the spirit of an athlete who refuses to be defined by setbacks or rejection. His positive attitude through adversity impressed me and his efforts to continue finding opportunities to play exemplify determination.

On the field, his wingspan, ability to bat down passes frequently, and a quick first step is reminiscent of Willie Jefferson’s play style of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The fact that he performed well at the College Gridion Showcase last year alongside several other CFL prospects who many of which were drafted very early in the CFL Draft piques my interest in him as a prospect. Additionally, he would not cost any draft capital for a CFL team to acquire.

There are some holes to be filled in the CFL at the defensive end position as some big names departed the CFL. Shawn Lemon (MTL) and Jackson Jeffcoat (WPG) retired. Lwal Uguak (MTL) and Mathiue Betts (BC) were signed by NFL teams.

Arnold Mbembe on Twitter

@JonathanClink on Twitter

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Jonathan Clink Reporter
Jonathan Clink joined CFL News Hub in early April of 2023. His primary responsibilities are covering the BC Lions and Montreal Alouettes. He self awarded himself the CFL Rookie Journalist of the Year in 2023 following the 2023 CFL season. He also proclaims himself to be a "really cool guy". He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and lived a large portion of his childhood in Northwest Ontario. He currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and misses being being able to have 4 months of skating every winter. Clink has written over 240 articles for CFL News Hub. He was the publication's boots on the ground at the 2023 Grey Cup in Hamilton. Clink has always had an obsession for sport and has a background in other sports as well having played hockey all his life and soccer, basketball, and lacrosse in high school. As a young child he used to log his hockey statistics after every game which is either an indication that he was destined for the role or perhaps and indication that he is rather strange.
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