May 4, 2020

Eskimos add O-line depth in CFL Draft

The Eskimos opted for a sure thing Thursday night in the 2020 CFL Draft instead of gambling with their first-round pick for a second year in a row.

Selecting offensive lineman Tomas Jack-Kurdyla fourth overall means the six-foot-four, 300-pound Montreal native will be available for the Eskimos’ training camp – whenever that may occur – and be able to play when needed.

“We went with someone whom we thought would be here that we could count on from Day 1,” said Brock Sunderland, Eskimos General Manager & Vice President of Football Operations. “He was the highest guy on our (draft) board at that point. It’s always been my philosophy to take the highest player available, no matter the position.

“He was a four-year starter at the University of Buffalo,” Sunderland continued. “He plays the position (guard) he will play here, so there is very little guessing. We saw him do it at the highest level of college football in the NCAA. He’s very durable, (has) amazing character – (which is) off the charts as far as what we want in our locker room, and (he’s) just a very good productive offensive linemen that we certainly hope becomes one of the stellar players of the Eskimos.”

Jack-Kurdyla, who started the final eight games of his freshman season, had 40 starts at right guard during his four-year, 47-game career with the Bulls. He helped Buffalo rush for a school-record 2,648 yards and 36 touchdowns while allowing a program-low 15 quarterback sacks in 2018 before the Bulls smashed two of those records – with 3,256 rushing yards and only eight sacks allowed – last season. The school also had its first 10-win season in 2018 and first bowl victory in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl.

“This is a great moment in my life,” Jack-Kurdyla said about getting drafted by the Eskimos. “With the corona (virus pandemic) going on, it didn’t ruin it at all.”

Jack-Kurdyla has been enjoying some rare quality time with his family in Montreal while self-isolating and social distancing.

“It’s my first time I’m able to be home for so long here with my family, which feels great coming out of college.”

Now he’s looking forward to joining a new family – the Eskimos – whenever that is possible.

“It seems like it’s going to be a great fit,” he said about an Edmonton offensive line that led the CFL with only 25 sacks allowed last year. “With no idea that this was (going to be) happening, I’m just very excited and very grateful for this opportunity.

“I’m hoping that the playbook gets sent to me; (that) I can get put in the system right away so I can get to work right away. Being home and not being able to go outside leaves me no other distractions so it’s the perfect opportunity to get a jump on things and get ready to work.”

The Eskimos could have chosen Carter O’Donnell with their first pick. The University of Alberta Golden Bears offensive tackle, who was ranked No. 3 by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau, was signed as a free agent by the Indianapolis Colts after last week’s NFL Draft.

Sunderland was willing to take a chance on drafting Mathieu Betts with the third overall draft pick last year – even though the Laval Rouge et Or defensive lineman had already signed a free-agent contract with the NFL’s Chicago Bears – but shied away from O’Donnell under similar circumstances.

“I think he’s going to have to prove that he can’t do it more than he can,” said Sunderland, who had concerns that O’Donnell wouldn’t be available to the CFL “for at least a year, if not two or longer.”

Sunderland pointed to the Colts investing a reported $25,000 US signing bonus in O’Donnell, plus some of his contacts with the Indianapolis organization told him the Colts are “extremely high on (O’Donnell).”

In addition, Sunderland believes a couple of NFL teams “were very close to drafting him in the seventh round,” so if the Colts ever release O’Donnell, other teams might be willing to pick him up.

Meanwhile, Jack-Kurdyla is familiar with Betts as an opponent when they were both in Quebec’s post-secondary public college system.

“We definitely had some battles against him,” Jack-Kurdyla recalled.

Overall, the Eskimos drafted nine players Thursday night – three offensive linemen, two defensive linemen plus a linebacker, defensive back, kicker and fullback.

“We got players that we were hoping would be there when we selected,” Sunderland said. “We’re very excited and hopeful that these guys can come in and develop into some key stalwart players for us.”

Second round, 13th overall

Alain Pae, 27, was a late addition to the CFL draft list. He had played only one season of university football with the Ottawa Gee-Gees in 2017, collecting 25.5 defensive tackles and six quarterback sacks as a defensive end to earn OUA (Ontario University Athletics) All-Rookie honours.

The six-foot-four, 238-pound Pae, had previously played two years with the Prague Lions in the Czech League of American Football before moving to Ottawa, where his father had lived and worked for 15 years, to get a master’s degree in human kinetics. He has continued to train with members of the Gee-Gees and was in the process of attempting to continue his football career through the CFL’s Global draft process. But with that draft on hold because of the pandemic, he was able to get switched to the Canadian prospect pool because he had completed the process of becoming a Canadian citizen earlier this year.

“He jumped off the film,” Sunderland said about Pae. “Very explosive, has good size, hasn’t played for a couple of years, but he’s in shape, he’s been working out recently.

“If the NFL was under normal circumstances, there were three teams I spoke with that would have invited him to a mini-camp tryout at a minimum and one team was actually very close to signing him to their 90-man roster.

“He’s got some of the things that you can’t coach and are hard to find, which are the size, the motor and the athleticism.”

Pae was clocked as fast as 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard sprint and leaped 10 feet, two inches in the broad jump.

Third round, 24th overall

Linebacker Malik Tyne was another late-comer to football. He had been recruited from Brampton, Ont., to play basketball at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Md., during his sophomore year of high school, but the football coach finally convinced him to try football in his senior year.

“They made me play running back,” Tyne told The Baltimore Sun. “I didn’t know what gaps were, I didn’t know what anything was. They gave me the ball and made me run with it. That was my first introduction to football.”

He didn’t know how to strap on his helmet or his pads, but he could run – 48 times for 381 yards and six touchdowns – and caught five passes for 50 yards. Tyne eventually selected Towson University (also in Maryland) and shifted to outside linebacker.

“Did I want to play defense? Yeah, I did,” he said. “Honestly, I was tired of getting hit. I’d rather do the hitting.”

Tyne, six-foot-three, 235 pounds, was a blitzing linebacker at Towson, playing 43 games and making 75 tackles, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Fourth round, 32nd overall

Oludotun (Dotun) Aketepe was a ballhawk at the University of Guelph, collecting eight interceptions (including seven the last two years) during 26 games from 2016-19. The six-foot, 184-pound defensive back, who played in the U Sports East-West Bowl game a year ago, also had 87.5 tackles, two quarterback sacks and was named an OUA all-star in 2019.

Fifth round, 41st overall

Sunderland readily admitted that the Eskimos don’t need a place-kicker with Sean Whyte still on the team, but couldn’t walk away from Dante Brown when it was the Eskimos’ turn in the fifth round.

“You always create the most competition you can for your organization because that brings out the best in everybody,” he said.

Brown is a triple-threat who connected on 47 of 56 field goal attempts (including a 56-yarder – the second-longest in school history – to force overtime) while averaging 42.4 yards on 134 punts and 58.7 yards on 91 kickoffs during 35 games over three seasons at Fort Hays State. He was named the NCAA Division II first-team kicker and the Don Hansen Football Committee National Special Teams Player of the Year each of the last two seasons.

Sixth round, 50st overall

The Eskimos were “shocked” to find six-foot-six, 295-pound offensive lineman Chris Gangarossa still available in the sixth round.

“I don’t think Gangarossa is a sleeper,” Sunderland said. “We had him pretty high. He was one of those guys who as we were selecting where we took him, we were a little baffled that he was there.

“We like the fact that he can play guard and tackle.”

Gangaroossa played at Wagner College in New York City , where he helped running back Ryan Fulse put up some big numbers while starting 24 of his 36 games over four years, including 11 games at left tackle in 2019.

Seventh round, 57th overall

The Green and Gold added another giant-sized offensive lineman in Nicholas Summach with a draft pick acquired in the trade with the Toronto Argonauts for kick-returner Martese Jackson in 2018.

“He’s a big man who moves extremely well,” said Sunderland.

Summach, six-foot-eight, 330 pounds, played 31 games with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies during the last four years and was named an Academic All-Canadian in 2018.

He’s considered a “raw” talent who needs some work with the coaches to develop his skills better over time.

“Being patient and investing some time in him hopefully pays dividends down the road,” Sunderland added.

Seventh round, 59th overall

Rossini Sandjong, who played 33 games with York University from 2016-19, gives the Eskimos some depth on the defensive line. He recorded 115 tackles, 14.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Eighth round, 68th overall

Edmonton completed its draft card by selecting Carlton Raven fullback Mitch Raper. The 21-year-old Raper had 11 receptions for 148 yards and one TD during 25 games from 2017-19.

Short yardage

Sunderland made a point of acknowledging all of the people who helped the Eskimos assess the talent for the CFL Draft. That included Director of Scouting/Assistant General Manager Bobby Merritt, Director of Football Operations Kris Hagerman, Assistant Director of Football Operations/Player Personnel Assistant Nick Pelletier, Scout Matt Boockmeier and Coordinator, Head Video Griffin Dear.

“All of these guys put a lot of time in,” Sunderland said.

In addition, head coach Scott (Milanovich) “was in on every call” while also working on game-planning for his return to the league after three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.

“This year, our assistant coaches put more time in than we’ve had in the past, too, so all these guys deserve a lot of credit,” Sunderland said. “I just want to make sure they get the thanks that they deserve.”