CFL bound

(Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros)

(Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros)

The CFL draft was an hour away on May 12, and four Wilfrid Laurier University football players were socializing with family, friends and teammates at Wilf’s Restaurant and Bar.

Versatile defensive back Chris Ackie, defensive end Ese Mrabure-Ajufo, running back Dillon Campbell and defensive lineman Asante Mizan kept busy while the room took subtle glances at the giant screen at the front, waiting for the draft to begin.

As the first, second and third draft picks were called, Ackie got a call. He went into Wilf’s Den to take it, coming out shortly after with a straight face.

“And with the fourth overall pick, the Montreal Alouettes pick Chris Ackie, defensive back from Wilfrid Laurier University,” said CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge.

The restaurant erupted with cheers as Ackie, ranked 11th in the top-20 prospects ranking heading into the night, was taken off the board. It was the highest a Hawk had been snagged since 1972.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Ackie said as the excitement died down. “[Some] were saying Montreal, [some were] saying Edmonton, so I was kind of assuming Edmonton. But then Montreal picked me up with the fourth spot.”

“To see everything kind of come together, because you’ve had the same goal your whole life, so for it to finally be here that day and hear your name actually get called. It was something I dreamed of.”

Surrounded by former Hawk teammates and friends, Ackie celebrated.

But suddenly, Wilf’s erupted again.

A pick after his teammate, Mrabure-Ajufo was drafted by the BC Lions.

It was the first time since 1970 that two Hawks went in the first round of the CFL draft.

“As they were calling the fourth pick, I got the call,” Mrabure-Ajufo said Tuesday. “And as they were saying Chris’ name [on the television], [Lions player personnel director Neil McEvoy] was telling me, ‘we’re picking you next.’ I heard, ‘you. Next.’”

Arguably the biggest shocker of the draft, no one was more surprised than Mrabure-Ajufo. Originally ranked 17th on the top-20 prospects ranking, the pass rusher expected to go late in the first round, or early second.

“Hearing that and seeing my name up there right now is surreal.”

“I think the biggest surprise was how early Ese went,” said head coach Michael Faulds. “We knew a lot of teams were intrigued by him, but we still kind of thought second round at some point.”

Campbell, the Ontario University Athletics MVP for the 2014 season, was then drafted 39th overall by the Toronto Argonauts, rounding out the three players drafted from Laurier’s class.

“It’s great to know football’s not over yet. Now you get paid to do something you would do for free,” Ackie said.

Ackie, Mrabure-Ajufo and Campbell, the top three performers for Laurier in their respective positions in 2014, will bring a wealth of talent to their new teams. Faulds attributes their success to their “exceptional work ethic,” saying they are good role models for the current players.

Life for the three draftees now continues with preparation and training before rookie camps get underway at the end of the month.

They hope to land a slot on the starting roster, but if not, they’ll be offered the practice roster or be released to finish up their final year of eligibility with the Hawks.

Faulds said the probability of seeing the first-round picks in a purple uniform again is scarce, but hopes Campbell can also find a place for himself with his new team.

“We’re rooting for him to make it … but if he did get sent back, we’d welcome him with open arms, that’s for sure.”

Despite the success of three Laurier players having their names called, there were three others who didn’t find a new home Tuesday.

Mizan, receiver Kelvin Muamba and kicker/punter Ronnie Pfeffer are still up for grabs after the seven-round selection night. Invitations from all rookie camps are still possible for the three. If any CFL teams do not sign them, all three players have one more year of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility they can use with Laurier.

“They’re upset, but they’re realists too. They know the process … but they’re keeping their heads up high,” Faulds said.

And as the draftees prepare for camps, Faulds is already planning for their absences on the starting roster for next year’s instalment of the Hawks.

“To be honest with you, as of our last game on November 1, we kind of had an idea they would be gone,” he explained. “We’ve spent all offseason and all spring camp getting some of our younger guys ready to take starting roles this year.”

“Even though we’re going to miss these guys, we don’t want to have to take a step back.”

 

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