March 14, 2024

Combine Ready: 3 things to know about Joel Dublanko

Photo courtesy of University of Cincinnati

TORONTO — The CFL Combine presented by New Era got an interesting new addition at linebacker.

Former Cincinnati Bearcat Joel Dublanko will be eligible for the 2024 CFL Draft and adds a lot of talent to the pool of players who will showcase their talents in Winnipeg on March 19-24.

Listed as six-foot-three, 240 pounds at Cincinnati, Dublanko spent six years with the Bearcats where he gradually increased his playing volume and contributions to an ascending program that made it all the way to the College Football Playoffs after the 2021 season.

“Definitely the Conference championship against Houston this year, it was just a surreal moment” said Dublanko after his Pro Day in 2022 about his favourite moment in college. “And obviously getting into the College Football Playoffs, that’s when everybody rushed the field, it was a special moment, something I’ll never forget.”

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Development at Cincinnati

Dublanko was an important piece as the lead tackler of a defence that finished fifth in the nation in points per game allowed (16.9) while ranking second in passing yards allowed per game (169.2). That impressive defensive performance vaulted the Bearcats into their first College Football Playoffs appearance in what was Dublanko’s final collegiate season.

That final campaign also happened to be his best statistical year in Cincinnati. The defender tallied 113 tackles, 5.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble forced as a playmaker for the Bearcats on his way to being named to the All-AAC First Team.

The linebacker went on to sign with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints before spending the 2022 training camp with the Seattle Seahawks. Dublanko played the 2023 season with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars.

The tenacious defender kept going for six years in Cincinnati and improved his tackle numbers every season before eventually breaking out in his final two years. He knows that his trajectory wouldn’t be the same without the support of his coaching staff.

“I owe it all to them,” said Dublanko. “They just continuously developed me, never took it easy, continued to push me all six of my years. Really thankful on them for never giving up on me.

(Photo courtesy of University of Cincinnati)

Coal into diamonds

The Aberdeen, Florida native played at Aberdeen High School before attending IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida as a senior. At Cincinnati, Dublanko played alongside several players who went on to have success in the NFL, including cornerbacks Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner and Coby Bryant. The linebacker attributes the success of the program – especially on the defensive side of the ball – to the development environment created by the entire culture around the football team.

“(Head) coach (Luke Fickell) was a defensive coordinator at Ohio State,” said Dublanko before the College Football Playoffs. “There’s a tremendous amount of expectations and good pressure that can take coals and make them into diamonds. I think the development at Cincinnati is what sets us apart. The way we train and our culture we establish with all the guys on the team.”

In Dublanko’s first year playing for the Bearcats, the team went 4-8 while allowing 31.8 points per game as the 94th best defence in the country. It was also coach Fickell’s first season in Cincinnati and the only losing record the two would have together. The Bearcats went on to lose only seven games over the next four seasons while Dublanko continued worked himself into one of the best linebackers in the nation.

“You’re gonna get a guy who’s going to work really hard,” said Dublanko as a pitch to teams after his Pro Day. “Going to be on every special teams. A guy who’s a student of the game, will never quit, never stop working.”

Similar path

Dublanko’s path to the CFL draws some similarities to another former high draft pick at linebacker. Alex Singleton was also a former Seattle Seahawk when he acquired a Canadian passport and was added to the pool of players available for the 2016 CFL Draft.

Singleton ended up being the sixth overall pick by the Calgary Stampeders before going on to earn two CFL All-Star nominations (2017-2018), one Most Outstanding Defensive Player award (2017), and winning a Grey Cup (2018).

Those are the highest of expectations to put upon any player, but Dublanko is also a late addition at linebacker to the CFL Draft that is generating similar early selection buzz.

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