Apr. 24—After growing up in Canada, Benjamin St-Juste has several friends in the NHL.
He began playing hockey himself as a 5-year-old and had solid skills in the game. But he was determined to blaze his own path.
"I wanted to be different," St-Juste said prior to his pro day last month. "A lot of my friends are already in the league for hockey but not many in the NFL. So I wanted to be that kid that was different that makes it to the NFL."
His story will have no trouble standing out in the NFL.
St-Juste is a native of Quebec and didn't speak English until he was 17 years old. He graduated high school at 16 and spent the next two years in a preparatory academy, often competing against players four years older than him.
He initially caught the eye of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh during a Wolverines football camp and committed to play in Ann Arbor. But things didn't go as planned.
A hamstring injury sidelined St-Juste for all of the 2018 season, and Michigan couldn't clear him medically to return. He put his name in the transfer portal and landed at Minnesota, where he reinvigorated his career.
At 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, St-Juste offers elite size and length as a cornerback. But he understands succeeding in the NFL will take another level of commitment.
"I have great values," St-Juste said. "I have great work ethic. I work hard. I put in the extra time when people are not looking. It could be in the film meeting room, on the field or whatever, but a lot of players in the NFL do that. So I'm gonna double down on that, put in even more work, be even more in the film room or getting some extra work, using my resources, my opportunities, so I can separate myself from the pack of players in the NFL, so I can be one of those elite players. Because obviously in the NFL a lot of people do a lot of those things."
St-Juste ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at Minnesota's pro day on April 1, giving rise to the theory some teams might project him more as a safety. But he had a quick 4.03-second shuttle drill and has shown the agility to stick with receivers down field.
What needs work is technique. St-Juste tends to panic at times when he loses contact with a receiver and can get grabby, leading to penalties.
He's shown a nose for the football with 13 passes broken up during his two seasons with the Golden Gophers, but he failed to record an interception during his college career. That's the result of poor ball recognition that also could improve alongside his technique.
St-Juste enjoyed his time at the Senior Bowl, learning from the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff, and has taken advantage of some rare time off in the months since. With his injury, the transfer and COVID, he's yet to have a true offseason.
"This was my first time to really perfect my craft, work on my craft, in the weight room, speed-wise and all that stuff, because I always had a limited offseason with COVID and the year before transferring from Michigan to here," St-Juste said. "So my offseason's kind of been cut short."
Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams is the cornerback St-Juste most enjoys studying currently, and he grew up a fan of free agent Richard Sherman. He also listed the Baltimore Ravens' Marlon Humphrey as a corner whose game he tries to emulate.
Draft projections place St-Juste somewhere early on Day 3 as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, but he aims to make an impact immediately. Whether that comes on defense or special teams, on or off the field, he isn't concerned.
He's long dreamed of entering the NFL, and he plans to make the most of this opportunity.
"I feel like personally, for me, if you don't have that ultimate goal of going to the NFL and really performing, I think your dream will kind of like die throughout the process," St-Juste said. "If you don't put in the work and you don't have the motivation to reach the ultimate goal to make it to the NFL and perform there, then you will lose motivation and you probably won't make it. So I always had that in the back of my mind. I need to make it."