GM Marcel Desjardins admits he was a bit surprised when “scrappy” offensive lineman Alex Fontana was still available when it came time for the Ottawa Redblacks to make their first-round selection (seventh overall) in Thursday night’s CFL draft.
And to borrow a line from TSN CFL panelist Dave Naylor, who said even before CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced Ottawa’s choice: “The sun comes up in the east, it sets in the west and Marcel Desjardins takes an offensive lineman.”
So, yes, it was no surprise that the Redblacks again went with an offensive lineman as their first choice. It’s become an annual tradition (the Redblacks have now selected offensive linemen in the first round in six of the seven years they’ve participated in the draft (Nolan MacMillan in 2013, Alex Mateas in 2015, Jason Lauzon-Seguin in 2016, Evan Johnson in 2017 and Mark Korte in 2018). Defensive back Antoine Pruneau was the exception in 2014.
After saying earlier in the week this might be the year the Redblacks changed it up and went with a player at another position (in a draft perceived to also be especially deep in receivers), sure enough, it was nearly-300-pound University of Kansas centre Fontana, who’s from Toronto and started nine out of 12 games at centre for the University of Kansas in 2018, they settled on.
“He’s obviously a proven commodity at a very high level of football,” said Desjardins. “He’s a guy I think could step in anywhere in this league right now and I think you could win with him. He’s a competitor. You watch him play, he’s a scrappy dude. Sometimes you use the word scrappy about a player who maybe has deficiencies in other areas so he has to be that way, he has to be scrappy. In my opinion, Alex is scrappy, but also very polished as an offensive lineman.”
As for again deciding the team needed to add to its collection of offensive lineman, Desjardins said: “It’s no secret we like to draft the offensive linemen and we feel you can never have enough of those guys. We were open to other options, but at the end of the day we felt he was the best guy available to choose.”
Told about Desjardins’ assessment of his ability, Fontana, who turned 24 Wednesday, said: “He pretty much hit it on the head. When I play football, aggression is something I definitely try to utilize all the time. That’s the type of player I am. I’m a physical player. I like to play aggressive, I like to play scrappy. I think I’m a bit polished, but I don’t think I’ve reached my maximum potential yet, I’m still light years away. With the right coaching, I can elevate more as a player. I spend all of my free time watching football, I’m always in the facility, I’m always in the training room. I’ve dedicated my whole life to football.”
TSN analyst Davis Sanchez said this about Fontana: “An evaluator told me he was the best O lineman in the draft, that he would be ready to play Day 1. This is the best player available.”
There is some risk with the first-round selection for Ottawa. Fontana has a mini-camp invitation from the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. He flies out Friday morning and will be with the Chiefs until Monday.
“If nothing works out down there, he’s all in on the CFL,” said Desjardins.
“I’m excited about the chance (in the NFL), but I’m pretty excited right now (about being picked by the Redblacks),” said Fontana. “They’re both great things in my life, I’m not going to lie.”
While Fontana was not at the CFL Combine in Toronto in March, the Redblacks interviewed him in a video conference.
“I thought it was a good vibe overall,” said Fontana. “I think we hit it off pretty well. Then we talked again (Wednesday) briefly, I was answering second questions from Ottawa. It was just confirming everything on their end.”
“He said a lot of the right things,” said Desjardins. “He’s been in a couple of different environments. Even before Kansas, he was at Houston. He’s moved around a bit and that doesn’t scare him.”
Growing up without any favourite teams, Fontana said: “I just enjoy watching the game, I like watching a good game of football.”
While Fontana could join a crowd of talented national offensive linemen in Ottawa (training camp is scheduled to open May 19), he’s going to do whatever he can to live out his dream.
“From the time I was a kid, I’ve always felt I wanted to play professional football, it’s always been my goal,” he said. “Now that it’s happened, I’m so happy and grateful for the opportunity. This is like a dream come true, I’m not going to lie.”
With their third-round pick (they didn’t have a choice in the second), the Redblacks took Sherbrooke running back Gabriel Polan. With the 36th pick in the draft, Ottawa took Acadia DL Thomas Grant. With the 45th pick, Ottawa took Houston Baptist WR Wesley Lewis. With the 54th pick, Ottawa took Manitoba DL Chris Larsen. With the 63rd pick, the Redblacks took Manitoba DL Samson Abbott. WIth the 72nd pick, Ottawa took Laval DL Clement Lebreux.
THE END AROUND: The Toronto Argos took big Oklahoma State OL Shane Richards with the top pick of the draft – big as in 336 lbs. of him. As it turns out, the Argos had already signed him to a three-year deal (two years, plus an option) … The third overall pick (to Edmonton), Laval DL Mathieu Betts, comes with at least some risk. The CFL Scouting Bureau’s No. 1-ranked player, Betts has a mini-camp invite from the Chicago Bears. There have been questions about his game not being suited for the NFL and he could be a CFL beast. TSN’s Duane Forde said that Betts’s game could even more advanced than Kwaku Boateng, who had nine sacks for the Eskimos last season … The reason the Redblacks were selecting in the seventh spot – the Montreal Alouettes forfeited their first pick (it would have been first overall) after taking OL Tyler Johnston in a supplemental draft last year … UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor, who’s from Ottawa, was selected by the Argos with the first pick of the third round (20th overall). Kurleigh Gittens Jr., who’s also from Ottawa and played at Laurier, was taken with the 23rd pick by the Argos. Ottawa U DB Jamie Harry went to Toronto with the 38th pick. With the 56th pick, Toronto took Carleton WR Phil Iloki. Ottawa U DB Cody Cranston went 66th to Montreal.