Bob O’Billovich was wheeling and dealing on draft day once again.
For a second-straight year, Obie and the Ticats traded down and out of the first round of the Canadian Football League Draft.
Besides Winnipeg, who eventually traded for Hamilton’s first round pick, there were other teams interested in the third overall selection during the weeks leading up to the draft.
“I had a couple other teams call, but I didn’t like what they were proposing to us,” O’Billovich said. “They wanted two-for-two in terms of what the rest of the trade might have been. In the scenario with Winnipeg we were getting two-for-one, so that made more sense for us.”
It was actually O’Billovich who sparked discussions with the Bombers.
“I called Winnipeg a couple weeks before the draft to put the bug in their ear,” the Ticats Vice President of Football Operations said.
“My question to them was, ‘do you think you can get the guy you want with your draft picks in the second round?’ And [Bombers general manager] Joe [Mack] said, ‘probably not’. Then I said, ‘well if that’s the case then what do you think about this scenario?’”
O’Billovich’s scenario was clear the price for the third overall pick would be both of Winnipeg’s second round picks.
“We stayed in touch and we both deliberated on it, then decided that was the best thing to do for both teams,” O’Billovich said.
On draft day 2012, Hamilton sent the third overall pick in the first round to Winnipeg in exchange for two second round selections, eighth and 13th overall.
“I thought we needed at least that first pick in the second round [8th overall], that was really like a late first round pick, to get Courtney Stephen, O’Billovich said.
Stephen, a Brampton native and standout with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks before transferring to Northern Illinois in 2010, was the top defensive back on Hamilton’s draft board despite being a futures player.
“If Courtney Stephen was coming out this year, he would have been drafted in the first round, O’Billovich said.” But he was going back to school so we thought that would be good quality with that pick in the second round.”
Stephen started from day one at Laurier. In two OUA regular seasons, spanning 16 games, he racked up 69 solo tackles – led the Golden Hawks with 40 in 2009 – 22 assisted tackles, six interceptions and two sacks.
For Stephen’s efforts in 2009 he was named a first team OUA All-Star and second team All-Canadian at the free safety position. A position he continues to hone his skills now at Northern Illinois University.
The 6-foot, 194-pounder walked-on to the Huskies football team, sitting out the 2010 season due to transfer rules and was put on scholarship after spring drills in 2011. In the fall of 2011, he suited up in six games, recording four total tackles, a blocked punt and a touchdown on his first NCAA play, picking up a blocked kick and taking it in for a major.
“His first year at Laurier he caught my eye. I felt like he was going to be a good prospect when it came time for him to be draft eligible – we’ve had our eye on him for quite a while, O’Billovich said. “No question about it, he can be a starter in the CFL.”
“I didn’t go to E-Camp or the East West Bowl or anything like that so I didn’t get a chance to perform in front of CFL scouts, Stephen said. “So, I didn’t think I would be selected that high.”
Despite not having the ability to see Stephen – he plans to play out his final year of eligibility at Northern Illinois and should likely be at Ticats training camp in 2013 – go through the typical combine and football drills or interview him in person, the Ticats interest never waned.
Hamilton studied Stephen’s film and Head Canadian Scout, Drew Allemang, got in touch with him by phone about three weeks before the draft.
“I had a really good interview with the Ticats. I was studying for a final when they called and we ended up talking for quite some time,” Stephen said. “We really hit it off.”
“They actually called me the morning of the draft to see how I was doing. I thought that was a bit out of the ordinary. They just wanted to see how I was doing and make sure I still wanted to play football they said, ‘we usually call guys just to see if they change their minds and don’t want to play football anymore.’ I was like, ‘are you kidding me, of course I want to play football.’”
Hours later on May 7, another call was made to Stephen, making it official; he was a Tiger-Cat.
Six more collegiate athletes were selected by the black and gold during the 2012 Canadian talent grab.
Two others were picked in the second round along with Stephen. Laval linebacker Frederic Plesius unexpectedly dropped out of the first round.
“We can bring him along and in time he could be a ratio-breaker at middle linebacker, that kid,” O’Billovich said.
Plesius fell into the Ticats lap, going 10th overall and University of Calgary offensive lineman Carson Rockhill was the last of Hamilton’s three second round selections 13th overall.
The Ticats nabbed a couple defensive linemen in round three. Laval’s Arnaud Gascon-Nadon with the 17th selection and another futures pick, Boise State defensive tackle Michael Atkinson 20th overall.
In the fourth round, 25th overall, O’Billovich and the Ticats football staff were surprised to see Sherbrooke receiver Simon Charbonneau-Campeau available.
“The way we graded and rated the receivers – there were three good receivers in the draft out of the group,” Obie said.
“We thought that Campeau was the best all-around receiver. He had the size, good speed, solid hands and ran really good routes. We thought that [Shamawd] Chambers was the fastest guy of the receivers in a straight line. And we thought that [Johnny] Aprile was the toughest guy of them all.”
“Overall – Campeau is a pretty physical guy himself — as the total package we liked Campeau the best. We were just elated when has was their for our fourth round pick, that was just icing on the cake.”
Hamilton made their seventh and final selection of the draft in the fifth round, 33rd overall, in the form of running back Darron ‘Bo’ Palmer, a futures player from Simon Fraser.
O’Billovich has experienced many a draft day in the CFL and he believes it was one of the better draft’s he’s ever been a part of, in terms of how things fell into place for his team.
“We got really good quality in this draft for potential kids that could become starters, in time,” Obie said.
Now we wait and see how the 2012 class of Ticats draftees falls and fits into their individual places in the Hammer.