Redblacks Go Big In CFL Draft

After a series of trades sent picks between teams in the past few days, the Ottawa Redblacks held onto the second-overall pick they earned by finishing with a 3-11 record in the 2021 season. The Montreal Alouettes selected Tyrell Richards first overall, and the Redblacks took offensive lineman, Zack Pelehos.

The Redblacks returned to their roots of drafting an offensive lineman in the first round of the Draft, after changing course in 2020 and 2021. Pelehos spent his past two seasons playing with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, although they were separated by two years. After the 2018 season, Pelehos missed the 2019, and 2020 seasons, after the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic.

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The 22-year-old participated in the National Combine earlier this year, where he was measured at six-foot-five, and nearly 300 pounds. Pelehos turned in an exceptional Combine, and led all offensive linemen in every event.

Zack Pelehos, formerly of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees

“We’ve obviously had the ability to do a lot of research on him, but it’s evident when you start breaking it down, you see his progression through the combines and athletically with what he was doing,” said Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke. “If you look at some of the teams that have been successful in the past few years, it starts with the offensive line.”

“He’s nasty. He’s going to be physical, he’s going to bring a presence, and he’s not going to be afraid to do that at a young age. Do we have expectations of him coming in and being a starter? No, we want him to be Zach and progress. At the end of the day, he’s played 17 U Sports games, but he’s excelled in those games.”

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The run on offensive linemen continued into the second round for the Redblacks, when they picked Cyrille Hogan-Saindon out of Laval. Hogan-Saindon was the second big offensive lineman drafted by the Redblacks, standing at six-foot-four and 301 pounds.

“When you get the opportunity to bring athletic, physical, offensive linemen into the building, that’s going to bode well for your offence,” said head coach Paul LaPolice. “We had a couple of guys leave [during the offseason] and we wanted to make sure we could grow.”

“We’ve been through two drafts since I’ve been here and we haven’t taken an offensive lineman,” he continued. “This gets us some really young, talented, physical football players to allow us to start building the brand of football.”

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In their territorial pick, the Redblacks adopted the motto of go big, or go home. Jesse Luketa was drafted by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round just a week ago, and the anticipation is that he will likely never come to the CFL. For Burke and the Redblacks, however, this selection is about more than what Luketa would be for the team in the event he ever comes to the CFL.

“When you can get a player of that calibre with a pick you could call an additional pick, let’s take advantage of it,” Burke said. “We looked at a couple of other local kids, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge what Jesse is doing for this community in football. To have him associated with the Reblacks’ brand and give hope and inspiration to our football community is a lot.”

Jesse Luketa, formerly of the Penn State Nittany Lions – Matthew OHaren / USA TODAY Sports

“We called Jesse right after, congratulated him, and said it’s not often too many guys get drafted twice in one week. He was jacked to be drafted by his hometown team. We talked about not expecting him here, we want him to make it as far as he can, but we want him to be an ambassador for not only the city of Ottawa, but our country and our sport.”

In the remainder of the draft, the Redblacks searched for depth and special teams contributors. In that time, they picked a receiver, two linebackers, a defensive back, and two running backs/fullbacks. The hope isn’t for an immediate contribution from any of them, particularly as some of them head back to school for another year, however, the picks allow for development, and possibly most importantly, flexibility down the line.

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“I always talk about the draft with not having any expectations for guys [to become] starters [right away],” said Burke. “I think what you look at is who has the ability to start in time, and I think we have a few of those in this draft. I want our players to come in, play free, but learn the game and learn how to be a pro.”

With rookie camp opening in just over a week’s time, Burke is excited to see the team he has built hit the field for the first time. Even with that sentiment, he knows that his work is far from over.

“That’s the passion I have for the job, constantly trying to help the team,” he said. “You’re excited to see the people you have put in place to date, and obviously, football is always a business where things are changing week to week.”


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