SFU receiver finds success on defense

BURNABY — Bibake Uppal has been part of Simon Fraser University’s football team for the past four years, but is only now getting a chance to showcase his skills.

The Earl Marriott graduate was listed on the roster as a wide receiver, but found his name further down the depth chart than he wanted.

“This is my fifth year here now,” said Uppal. “I played four years as receiver and I was kind of stuck behind a couple guys and there were some things I needed to improve on as a receiver.”

The six-foot-two-inch communications major said he believed he was capable of starting at the NCAA Div. 2 level, but found his opportunities extremely limited.

“I felt I wasn’t making a lot of progress there. I felt like I was athletic enough to start at this level and I just wasn’t getting the shot with the previous coaching staff at receiver,” he added.

This offseason, Uppal decided to try playing in the secondary and it worked out just as he wanted.

Since moving to defense, he is one of the starting cornerbacks for The Clan and is used in all of their base plays.

He admitted it took a few games for him to adjust to playing cornerback at game speed, but in SFU’s first win against Dixie State (Oct. 4), Uppal finished the game with six total tackles and his first career interception.

The pick resulted in The Clan kicking a 43-yard field goal to put them up 26-13 to “ice the game” with six minutes remaining. SFU rode out of Utah with a 29-19 win.

Abe Elimimian – SFU’s defensive co-ordinator – said for Uppal to continue his success in the secondary, he has to stay confident and become more familiar with the position.

“He has not played cornerback until this year, so there has been a learning curve. I think last week the process switched over where he started understanding what we’re expecting of him,” said Elimimian, who spent last season as the cornerback coach at Washington State University in the NCAA Div. 1 Pacific-12 Conference.

Elimimian added that the interception will only give Uppal more confidence and will push him to continue working hard.

“After the game, (Uppal) said, ‘Continue to push me.’ I said, ‘Damn right I’m going to push you because at the end of the day, we’ve got to get this right.’ I’m trying to make him the best player he can be,” the former San Diego Charger and Chicago Bear said.

Jacques Chapdelaine, The Clan’s head coach and offensive co-ordinator, said that Uppal came up to him and asked to be moved to defense when Chapdelaine agreed to take the job with SFU in February.

“He was listed as a receiver, but he came up and asked to move to the defensive back position. We needed some people and he said that he hadn’t played that much as a receiver.

“I thought that was pretty mature of him to be able to assess himself and say, ‘But I think I can help the team as a (defensive back),’” said Chapdelaine.

The former B.C. Lions offensive coordinator said when the coaching staff saw Uppal play corner, they believed he could instantly be a starter and now believe he could play professionally.

“There (aren’t) too many guys of his size and his ability to do things defensively. Certainly there’s optimism for him looking at the next level and the opportunity is there,” the head coach said.

Chapdelaine said he would be shocked if teams weren’t currently taking a closer look at Uppal.

“Having played receiver will help him because he’ll have a better understanding of offenses. I can see him being a very good safety in the CFL,” he said. “He’s rangy, he’s got good height, he’s got good size and he can be physical as well.”

As for the former Mariner wide receiver, he’s just taking it one game at a time. He’s satisfied with the hard work he put in over the offseason to learn a new position and said that making it to the next level would be “huge.”

“I want to keep playing for as long as I can whether that be in the CFL or whatever it may be,” Uppal said. “Playing in my senior year (was) pretty important for that to happen.”

There are three other local players on SFU’s roster – sophomores Del Ingvaldson (defensive back), Christian Berger (wide receiver) and junior Nikolai Karpun (punter).

This weekend, The Clan play host in a 1 p.m. kick off to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Hardrockers on Oct. 18 at Swangard Stadium.

For more information, visit Athletics.sfu.ca.