O’Leary: No. 1 pick Ford has a big opportunity in BC

The name may have been unfamiliar and the location may have been something of a surprise to others, but the BC Lions knew exactly what they were doing when they chose Jake Ford first overall in the CFL Global Draft.

“When we first sat down to talk about the 2021 Global Draft, we all felt that bringing in players that would be able to get some reps on special teams, get some reps on defence, have the ability to play offence and have the coach have the confidence to put them into real live game action was the key for for us in this process,” Lions’ co-general manager and director of football operations Neil McEvoy said on Thursday afternoon.

“If you look at the four guys that we picked, they all have the opportunity.

“Jake Ford has the opportunity to come in and be the starting punter, starting kickoff guy and possibly also kick field goals. It starts from there and all through, all four guys we picked, all have opportunities to compete for those two Global spots and certainly compete for the two spots on the practice roster.”

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Twenty-eight-year-old punter Jake Ford has gone from Australia, through three NCAA programs and The Spring League en route to being the top pick of the CFL Global Draft (Photo: Ouachita Athletics)

At 28, Ford has played his share of football. An Australian rules player in his hometown of Shepparton, Ford turned to American football and worked with Prokick, an academy in Australia that looks to land its members with American teams. Ford first went to the University of Oregon in 2016, then St. Augustine University in North Carolina and finally spent his last two years of eligibility at Ouachita Baptist University, in Arkansas.

The Ouachita Tigers reeled off a pair of undefeated seasons while he was there and Ford led the nation in net punt yardage. In a football-challenged 2020 season, he played with the Alphas of The Spring League.

“It’s an honour to be taken No.1 and I’m excited about getting up to Vancouver and playing for the BC Lions,” Ford said from his home in Little Rock, Arkansas.

When he was in Australia, Ford had studied the game from afar, first watching a lot of Pac-12 football, the NFL and eventually the CFL. Having a fellow Aussie to watch in punter Josh Bartell — who has played for Hamilton, Saskatchewan and the Lions over his seven-year career — certainly helped pique his interest. He’s studied CFL special teams, watching players like Bartell, Richie Leone and Rob Maver and seeing the importance that a punter plays in Canada.

“It’s something that I have good knowledge on and I’m excited to get out there and play,” he said.

By the sounds of it, he’ll get that opportunity. McEvoy and Geroy Simon, the team’s director of global scouting and their U.S. regional scout, sounded like they treated the global draft the same way they will next month’s Canadian Draft. They looked at their needs, the best players available and chose accordingly.

“Jake Ford has the opportunity to come in and be the starting punter, starting kickoff guy and possibly also kick field goals.” — Neil McEvoy

Given the circumstances — evaluating off of a virtual combine with no in-person meetings — it wasn’t easy, but the Lions felt confident when it was time to make their picks. They added Chinese linebacker Boqiao Li in the second round (18th overall) and opened the third-round (19th overall) with Japanese kicker Takeru Yamasaki. They wrapped up their day and the Draft as a whole by taking German defensive lineman Niklas Gustav with the 36th and final pick.

“It’s tough, there’s no two ways to put it,” Simon said of the evaluation process this year.

“But in the end the playing field was even. You have to sit and watch a lot of video and be critical, as well as look for some of the positives that these guys have. We weren’t able to see these guys physically but I think there’s enough video on these guys that you can make a fair evaluation of their talents and some of the things that they can bring to your team.

“Although it was tough watching everything virtually, I think the CFL did a great job of getting us all the video that they could find on these guys. The virtual combines…let us see what these players really are, as best they can.”

McEvoy and Simon said they enjoyed getting to know their newest players over the last few weeks. With a year-plus now of in-depth scouting on Global players, the Lions are excited to see what their new players can bring to training camp.

“I think this year’s crop gives us the ability to upgrade some positions on our team and I’m excited about the guys that are coming in, especially Jake Ford and Takeru Yamasaki,” Simon said.

“I think these guys are going to make our team better and we’re really excited about them.”

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