Stephen Tsai: Ex-UH WR Ursua hopes to reboot career in CFL

Aug. 22—As the saying goes, if John Ursua did not have bad luck, he would not have any luck at all.

After suffering ACL injuries in 2021 and 2022, it appeared the former University of Hawaii receiver's pro-football career had hobbled to its conclusion.

But this is Ursua, who attended three high schools his senior year and overcame several obstacles to eventually compete for the Rainbow Warriors. "I had been through this before, and I told myself, I can get through this again," Ursua said. "I can make a little comeback and it'll be solid."

After a successful rehabilitation and the doctors' blessings, Ursua's agent reached out to NFL teams and then to Canadian Football League officials. Kyle Carson, the lead scout for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, had followed Ursua since he was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in 2019.

The Roughriders "contacted me right away," Ursua said.

Ursua and the Roughriders reached agreement on a two-year contract that goes into effect on Sept. 11, when CFL rosters may expand.

"I'll play for Saskatchewan for the last eight games," Ursua said.

The deal includes an escape clause that will allow Ursua to leave at the end of this season if he receives an offer from an NFL team. While he aspires another NFL shot — he needs a full third season to qualify for an NFL pension — Ursua told Saskatchewan officials he would welcome an extended stay in Canada.

"If an NFL team calls for camp that following year, that'll work out perfectly," Ursua said. "If not, I told the team I would love to finish my career in Canada, if that's possible. I just really want to be out there and play and showcase some of my talents."

Ursua has become synonymous with comebacks. In the sixth game of his sophomore season in 2017, Ursua suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. The next year, he led the nation with 16 touchdown catches. During an exhibition game against Denver ahead of his second regular season with the Seahawks, Ursua left ACL was injured. In 2022, he tore his right ACL while colliding during a pickup basketball game.

"Right, left and back to right," Ursua said of a roll call of ACL injuries. Ursua said he often plays basketball as an offseason workout, and that the 2022 injury was a "freak accident, nothing crazy."

Faced with another rehabilitation, Ursua remained hopeful.

"It's sad to say, but (a torn ACL has) become a frequent injury for players," Ursua said. "Seeing players come back from it — I came back from it — it's discouraging but it doesn't bring me down, down to the point where I want to throw in the towel. I feel I have a lot of gas in the tank."

Several months after last year's injury, the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals expressed midseason interest. "I just wasn't fully ready with my ACL," Ursua said. "Now I'm ready."

After connecting with Saskatchewan, Ursua spoke with Bryant Moniz and UH head coach Timmy Chang. Moniz and Chang are former UH quarterbacks who played in the CFL. After learning of the CFL's wider field and 20-yard-deep end zones, Ursua thought, "to be honest, I wanted to play quarterback over there. But I'm going to play receiver."

Ursua said he welcomes the pre-snap running starts and the less-congested roues because of the larger field. "I'm going to have to adjust," he said, "but it's still football."

Ursua also has maintained outside interests. Despite being credited with two NFL seasons, Ursua saved money and invested prudently. "I didn't buy fancy cars or fancy jewelry," he said. "I used the past four years to buy property and other businesses."

One of them is a restaurant, "Auntie's Hawaiian Kitchen," in Riverton, Utah. He and his sister are co-owners. "We made a year in June," he said. "I'm trying to be smart with my money."

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