Jean-Francois Massé/Université de Sherbrooke
For a while there, Anthony Vandal must have wondered just why he invited a large group of friends and family – about thirty of them, he figures – to his CFL Draft party at a friend’s restaurant in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
As the night was proceeding, name after name after name hit the board. But not Vandal’s.
Scratch that, actually. The way the last man selected in the 2023 CFL Draft talked about his loved ones, you get the distinct impression the night would have been a beautiful thing no matter what, with the native of Sorel-Tracy, QC being surrounded by people he holds dear.
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“I bought supper for everybody,” says the 25-year-old graduate of the Sherbrooke Vert et Or, admitting the bill came in at a gulp-worthy 700 dollars.
“It’s a small amount when you think of all the time and the energy that those people have put in to support me, and all those years,” he says.
“So it’s just a way for me to thank them. It’s only money.”
The big offensive lineman was expecting to hear his name called somewhere in the middle rounds. He had no illusions about going higher, and admits he wasn’t paying so much attention to the proceedings as the first two televised rounds were playing out. Vandal was feeling good, he was feeling grateful and he was certain to see his name appear sometime soon, right? So he casually chatted with his guests as Commissioner Randy Ambrosie appeared on screen to announce the names of those drafted early.
As the night wore on and the picks came in, Vandal’s name was not being seen on the draft tracker. If he was feeling glum about it, he hid it well, he thinks. Besides, he just kept hoping to see his name pop up next. Like one of the historical figures he admires – Winston Churchill – Vandal persevered, even in the darkest hour.
“When I saw I was not going in those picks at that time,” Vandal says of the fourth, the fifth, the sixth rounds, “I was questioning a little bit. Stress came.”
Then… boom. With the 72nd and final pick of the draft, the Toronto Argonauts capped a good night with loved ones with some great news.
“Everybody exploded,” says the amiable Vandal of the moment his selection became official, the excitement of the previous night lifting his voice.
“It was a nice moment with everybody close to me,” he continues. “When it happened I was real happy that they were there to celebrate with me.”
When you’re a highly-touted prospect, one who sees his name in the top 10 or even the top 20 as the draft approaches, the position in which you are selected might matter a great deal. To a guy who is less-heralded, it matters not so much. For Vandal, just getting a ticket to keep proving himself is the big deal, even if he just barely made it onto the CFL Draft radar screen.
“I got picked,” says the man who is currently working on his Master’s thesis in Intervention and Organizational Change. “That’s the only thing I wanted. I wanted to get drafted to have an opportunity to play professional football and right now that’s where I’m at.”
“Everything in the up and coming weeks, I can control,” he says, knowing that if where he was picked was not up to him, the rest is. “I can control how I perform on the football field. I got my chance to play. I’m gonna show the Argos that they made the right choice.”
At six-foot-three and 290 pounds, Vandal has been steadily improving as an offensive linemen ever since he picked up the game as a teenager. While with the University of Sherbrooke, he was named an RESQ all-star three times. Last season, he rose to be named a second-team all-star for the entirety of U SPORTS, a heady national honour.
While working to improve his game – a number of CFL watchers think he’ll need to move from tackle to guard at the pro level – Vandal will continue to keep a couple of role models in mind when he hits the field with Toronto’s rookies in a week’s time.
“For me it was always football and school,” says Vandal of why he admires Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the former McGill lineman who went on to win a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs before pausing his football career and putting his medical degree to work on the front lines during Covid.
“Two important things for me,” continues Vandal. “Laurent did the same thing. He never gave up school. He was a really good player on the football field. So he’s a good person to follow and learn from.”
Montreal Alouette guard Kristian Matte is another player that Vandal looks up to. “He’s always there, always the same effort,” says Vandal. “I saw myself in his game,” he says of watching Matte play during his own formative football years.
“He’s a great leader as well,” Vandal adds.
Which brings us to Churchill, the legendary historical figure whom Vandal says he’d love to to sit down to dinner with, marvelling at Churchill’s tenacity and at his ability to inspire. “How did he manage to keep people motivated and manage all that pressure?”
“I really like his toughness, his resilience,” Vandal says of Great Britain’s wartime bulldog of a leader, who once famously uttered “we shall never surrender.”
“Never give up,” says Vandal in agreement, and you know he’s referring to the days and weeks, perhaps years ahead in what he hopes will be a long CFL career.
The last man drafted might also have been talking about the night before, when expectations were being tested while he treated his loved ones to dinner, whatever the cost may be.