There’s a ton of football talent in Ontario, and the latest example of that came in Tuesday’s CFL Draft.
Last week saw two of the three Canadians chosen in the NFL Draft hail from Ontario (and eight Ontarians were either drafted, signed as free agents or invited to an NFL tryout). The CFL draft saw 28 of the 74 players selected come from Ontario University Athletics schools. That’s more than any other U SPORTS conference (Canada West was second with 19 picks), and it’s more than the entire NCAA, which saw 14 total players selected.
The top OUA pick was Ottawa Gee-Gees’ offensive lineman Zach Pelehos, from Gananoque. Pelehos won’t have to switch cities as he heads to the pros, as he was taken second overall by the Ottawa Redblacks. (So he’ll soon be wearing that PointsBet jersey patch.) Pelehos had an impressive career with the Gee-Gees, including starting every game as a freshman in 2018 and earning a first-team OUA all-star nod this past season.
The Gee-Gees saw six overall selections from their program, the most of any school. The other Gee-Gees taken were:
- Defensive back Chris Ciguineau (fifth round, 47th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers).
- Wide receiver Frednick Eveillard (sixth round, 50th overall by the BC Lions).
- Running back Jean-Paul Cimankinda (seventh round, 57th overall by the Edmonton Elks).
- Defensive lineman Adam Wallace (eighth round, 68th overall by BC).
- Defensive lineman Michael Pezzuto (eighth round, 71st overall by the Toronto Argonauts).
Hec Crighton Award winner to Edmonton
Another significant OUA pick was eighth overall selection Tre Ford, from Niagara Falls. Ford, a quarterback for the Waterloo Warriors, won the Hec Crighton Award as U SPORTS’ most outstanding player this past season. In 2021, he passed for 1,465 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 629 yards and six touchdowns, all in just six games. He was the first Waterloo player ever to win that award. And the Edmonton Elks made him the first quarterback chosen in the CFL Draft’s first round since Sheldon Paris in 1980.
Ford and his brother Tyrell (a receiver who was selected 13th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) are amongst the Canadian players with NFL minicamp invites. Tre earned an invite from the Baltimore Ravens, while Tyrell received one from the Pittsburgh Steelers. So if those opportunities pan out for them, they may not wind up in the CFL quickly, or maybe even at all. But the Elks and Bombers certainly found it valuable to select the Fords high in any case.
Another OUA product in a similar situation is Ajax’s Deionte Wright, taken 10th overall (with the first pick of the second round) by the Toronto Argonauts. Wright, a defensive lineman for the Western Mustangs, received the J.P. Metras Trophy this year as U SPORTS’ outstanding lineman (offensive or defensive), and helped Western to the Vanier Cup with a nation-high 7.5 sacks (plus 19 tackles).
He was the only Canadian invited to the famed East-West Shrine Bowl US collegiate showcase. And he’s received a minicamp invite from the NFL’s Washington Commanders. So we’ll see if he winds up coming to the CFL this year or not.
But will they end up playing in the CFL?
With all of these players, it’s worth mentioning that a CFL draft pick does not mean they’ll certainly play for that team.
As noted, many of these players receive at least some level of NFL opportunity. The CFL Draft is a balancing act, which requires weighing a prospect’s true talent against the likelihood they’ll play in the CFL, and many picks are about securing prospects for the future if American options don’t work out for them.
And there may also be competition for players from other football leagues, including the USFL and the forthcoming XFL. (The news that the USFL reportedly wasn’t able to secure a visa for Liam Dobson may make them less competitive for Canadian players, though.) But the CFL Draft is still definitely notable, and it’s the main way teams build their Canadian talent, still a key part of the CFL game.
One other important Ontario draft note: while he didn’t play for a U SPORTS school, the draft’s first overall pick (by the Montreal Alouettes, after a trade with the Elks) was also from the province. That would be former Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards, from Brampton.
Richards played for the Orange from 2018-20; he entered the transfer portal last year but was unable to transfer thanks to not having enough transferable credits.
But he had a good college career with Syracuse, including posting 24 tackles (3.5 for loss), two sacks, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick in 2020, and he impressed at this year’s CFL combine. And, interestingly enough, the Alouettes also selected one of Richards’ former Syracuse teammates, Nigerian-born defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, first overall in Tuesday’s CFL Global Draft.
We’ll see if either or both of them make an impact in Montreal this year.