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April 21, 2006

Leos play it safe in draft

First-round trifecta is healthy and ready to compete for jobs

By Mike Beamish,
Vancouver Sun

The last time the B.C. Lions had three picks in the first round of the Canadian college draft was in 2001, it didn't work out so well. In fact, it was a disaster.

Linebacker Ian Williams, the No. 2 overall pick, was cut in training camp of his second year and No. 8 pick Lief Thorsen, an offensive lineman from Montana, packed it in after one season. Only FB Lyle Green, the No. 4 selection in '01, is still with the team.

Williams showed up at his first camp receiving daily medication to prevent the regeneration of a non-cancerous tumour, portions of which still remained in his brain. It was not a good omen.

“No. I wouldn't have taken Williams that year,” said Wally Buono, who was still with the Calgary Stampeders at the time.

Perhaps with an eye toward Adam Rita's draft of five years ago, the current Lions GM took a cautious approach Thursday when he pulled off his own first-round trifecta, selecting McMaster linebacker Jason Pottinger, York defensive end Ricky Foley and Simon Fraser offensive lineman Dean Valli with three of the first six picks in the '06 draft.

The Edmonton Eskimos, with the first pick, predictably chose Adam Braidwood of Washington State, a defensive lineman who played football at Delta's Seaquam high school and a player who would have been B.C.'s first choice had he been there.

Though he dipped into the U.S. for his first-round picks in his previous three drafts as Lions' GM — Utah receiver Paris Jackson (2003), Stanford safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (2004) and Kentucky fullback Alexis Bwenge (2005) — Buono wasn't taking a chance this time that a precious pick might look to bolt to the NFL. Jackson signed with the Buffalo Bills before he was cut, Atogwe, drafted in the third round, is still with the St. Louis Rams, and Bwenge still has the option of being drafted or getting an invite to an NFL camp, though he has agreed to a contract with the Lions.

“I'd be very surprised if these guys [Pottinger, Foley and Valli] aren't the backbone of our team in a few years,” Buono said. “We were very, very, very careful. We needed our team to get younger. And we needed to make sure they would show up at training camp. We didn't want to pick guys that were on the NFL radar.”

In Pottinger, Foley and Valli, the Lions have three picks who are expected to compete for jobs at training camp in Abbotsford next month. The additional good news is that none of them are on crutches or taking medication, although Pottinger is getting over a sprained ankle picked up in basketball game and didn't participate in the CFL combine last month near Toronto.

“I fractured a bone in my thumb one time, but I kept on playing,” Pottinger says.

“I tore my elbow once, but I played through it,” adds Foley, an athletic freak who didn't play football until he went to university and whose competitive resume is only 23 games long. “I've never had an MRI and I've never missed a game.”

Valli had shoulder surgery in his first season at SFU, but that was six years ago and he wasn't expected to play anyway. Instead, he spent his rookie season with the Clan as a cameraman, filming practice. Now CFL teams are watching tapes of him.

“There were six guys we targeted in the first round and we got three of them,” Buono said. “And they're the kind of guys who can come in and give us some immediate help, as special teams players or backups. We want guys who can compete.”

And pass the physical.