April 29, 2023

Blessman Ta’ala hopes to be the CFL’s next great Hawaiian

Christian Bender/CFL.ca

Blessman Ta’ala admits he didn’t know much about the CFL before he learned about an opportunity this year to enter the league’s Global Draft, but he’s got some good resources that he can quickly learn from.

The former University of Hawaii Rainbow Warrior spent the 2022 season as a senior while freshman Chad Owens Jr. had just joined the team. Both he and perhaps more important his father, Chad Sr. are at Ta’ala’s disposal as the 24-year-old hopes that a good showing at the CFL Combine presented by New Era will get him selected in the May 2 draft.

“I used to tear it up with him back home in Hawaii,” Ta’ala said of the elder Owens, who won CFL Most Outstanding Player honours in 2012, on the heels of a 3,862 all-purpose-yard season that saw the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup.

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While either Owens could give Ta’ala a sense of what the CFL game is like and what it offers, there’s another Hawaii alum that can give some more specific insights into the defensive side of the game. That’s Solomon Elimimian, who had been freshly announced as a member of the 2023 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class when the Edmonton combine was just getting underway. In 2014, Elimimian became the first purely defensive player to be named MOP in CFL history. The 10-year veteran linebacker spent the bulk of his career with the BC Lions, before suiting up for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2019.

Ta’ala has a direct line to Solomon through his brother, Abe, who is the cornerbacks coach at the University of Hawaii.

“I didn’t really know anything about the CFL, but I’ve learned some of it from (Abe),” Ta’ala said. “(Solomon) is a legend over here.”

Ta’ala took those insights and a tremendous amount of strength into the combine in Edmonton. He tied fellow Global player Max Parkinson for the overall lead in the bench press, with 29 reps. The six-foot, 291-pounder also ran a 5.22-second 40-yard dash.

He was thankful for the new format of the combine this year. Rather than the standard package of testing, measurements and one-on-ones that would unfold over a weekend, this year’s prospects had three additional days to work with position-specific coaches and simulate a week of practice leading up to a game. For someone like Ta’ala who traveled a long way to get to Edmonton, it gave him some time to deal with travel fatigue and show coaches more of what he could do in that practice and in-class environment.

Ta’ala tied for the top overall spot in the bench press, with 29 reps in Edmonton at the CFL Combine (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

“I think the format has really been fitting for me because usually the big guys don’t really get that much exposure with the 40s and everything. Once you put the pads on I think that’s a different story right there. I think it shows more of what you can actually do, having your helmet and pads on, doing contact stuff,” he said.

Ta’ala will hope to hear his name called on Thursday, May 2 in the CFL Global Draft. The draft gets underway at 11 a.m. ET and is just two rounds, providing a small window of opportunity for the 21 prospects that made the trip to Edmonton. Teams can of course go off the board and select Global players that weren’t at the combine as well.

After a four-year career at Hawaii that ended with the 2022 season, this is the first time that Ta’ala hasn’t had a concrete football option in front of him. He’d like to get a sense of certainty on Tuesday and an opportunity in a new country and a new league. A team captain for the Rainbow Warriors in 2022, Ta’ala was a three-time All-Mountain West honourable mention (2020-2022). He finished his career with 142 total tackles (72 solo), four sacks and three pass breakups.

“It’d be a good experience for me, actually just play ball, really. That’s what I’m looking for.”

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