- Free Agency
Patience is a key with any draft selection, but the B.C. Lions were prepared to wait for only so long.
The Lions decided to pass on a couple prospects and selected red-shirt offensive lineman Hunter Steward from Liberty University in Virginia with their first pick, sixth overall, in Monday’s CFL Canadian Draft.
The Lions had some interest in Regina Rams’ defensive tackle Stefan Charles and McMaster Marauders’ offensive lineman Matt Sewell. That was tempered when both signed contracts with the NFL Tennessee Titans.
In Steward the Lions selected a player with plenty of potential and a year of NCAA Division 1 eligibility remaining.
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“Of all the guys we looked at, he was the guy that was a year away,” said Lions’ head coach Mike Benevides. “Those other guys…because they are already contracted NFL guys, they are going to be away a little longer.”
Steward was born in Kingston, Ont., but moved to Virginia Beach to attend Kellam High School. He went to Virginia University as a defensive lineman but transferred to Liberty where he was converted to the offensive line. He played the 2012 season as a left tackle.
Kelly Bates, the Lions CFL’s draft coordinator, said the six-foot-seven, 285-pound Steward is a diamond in the rough.
“Hunter is a large person who plays with a mean edge,” said Bates, the Lions running backs coach.
“He didn’t get by on technique. He got by on being mean and being aggressive. The footwork is there and will improve. We feel there is a lot of upside with him.”
The Lions added depth to their Canadian receiving corps by taking wide receiver Seydou Junior Haidara of the Laval Rouge et Or with their second-round pick, 12th overall. B.C. then took a gamble on another red-shirt player when they selected Oregon Ducks’ linebacker Bo Lokombo 21st in the third round.
The Lions also selected safety Matt McGarva of Windsor 33rd; Matthew Albright, an offensive lineman from Saint Mary’s 42nd; Matt Walker, a safety from UBC 50th; and Cameron Thorn, a defensive lineman from Guelph, 58th.
Overall the Lions drafted two offensive linemen, two safeties, a receiver, a defensive lineman and a linebacker.
The Lions were in need of safeties after Cauchy Muamba signed as a free agent with Winnipeg. That leaves J. R. LaRose as B.C.’s lone proven safety.
“There were several things we wanted to take out of during the draft, said Benevides.
“There’s no doubt I was looking for some guys to stand behind J.R. LaRose. We found those guys, and on the offensive line you are looking for guys to augment the group you already have. We found those. They are all good fits in the sense they fit what we value.”
This year’s draft was expanded to seven rounds from six.
Benevides was willing to take the risk that Lokombo, a six-foot-three, 225-pound graduate of W. J. Mouat secondary school in Abbotsford, B.C., that could be taken in next year’s NFL draft.
“He’s a guy that could play end in our league, he could play linebacker,” said Benevides. “He’s intelligent, super athletic.
“Even though there is the extra year, there is way too much value to pass up.”
The six-foot-one, 215-pound Haidara played in nine games last year for Vanier Cup champion Laval. He had 23 catches for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s a dream come true,” the 24-year-old from Quebec City, said in a telephone conference call. “I know I have the ability to help the team.”
Laval practised at the Lions’ training facility in Surrey when they were in Vancouver for the 2011 Vanier Cup. Haidara has one year of Canadian college eligibility remaining but hopes make the Lions’ roster this fall.
“My goal is to make the team,” he said. “I am ready to step up to the next level. When I set my mind to something, I stick with it.”
The Lions roster already includes Canadian receivers like Akeem Foster, Shawn Gore, Marco Iannuzzi and Paris Jackson.
Bates said Haidara can fit into that group.
“He brings size and speed and an immediate impact player on special teams,” said Bates.
“He’s only beginning to see his potential and he was a demon on special teams. There is a tremendous upside to him.”
The six-foot, 197-pound McGarva is a native of Surrey, B.C., who attended Lord Tweedsmuir high school in Cloverdale, B.C. He’s the brother of Sean McGarva, the Lions’ co-ordinator of community relations.
Mark Washington, the Lions’ defensive backs coach, expects McGarva to compete for a spot on the roster.
“He will do quite well,” said Washington. “He’s a smart young man. A great athlete. He works really hard.
“Watching his film, I think he will convert to our system quite well. He’s physical enough, he’s big enough, he’s strong enough. I think he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Albright is a six-foot-five, 295-pound native of Dartmouth, N.S.. The six-foot, 190-pound Walker is from Vernon, B.C.
Thorn came to the CFL Combine as a defensive lineman but the six-foot-five, 286-pound native of Midhurst, Ont., worked out as an offensive lineman. He also can be a long snapper.
“He did very well against a very strong defensive line group,” said Benevides. “It tells you the uptick on that guy is there.
“He has a lot of skill sets to bring to the table. He’s a big, long athlete that moves well.”