Millions of Canadians will tune in to watch the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams battle for the right to be crowned Super Bowl champions, and a handful of them from Ottawa will watch the game with the vision of putting on a National Football League uniform this spring .
This year, five Ottawa-raised football players who went to U.S. colleges have declared for the NFL draft, which is set for later in April.
Offensive lineman Chris Fournier said he was “a big kid” growing up in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans. Now standing 6’4 “and weighing in at 290 pounds, he remembers a debate about whether he might become a formidable hockey player.
There were a few small problems, though.
“I can skate forwards. It’s the stopping and going backwards that will get me,” said Fournier, who preferred the combination of strength and strategy in football.
“I just think it’s pretty amazing how all those aspects come together.”
As he gets set to graduate from Louisiana Tech University, where he is currently a graduate student in engineering management, Fournier hopes to be drafted to the NFL.
This spring, the giant lineman is one of five young men from Ottawa hoping to follow in the footsteps of current NFL players from the nation’s capital, Neville Gallimore and Eli Ankou.
Local academy a key launching pad
The path to the NFL has often run through Victor Tedondo at Gridiron Academy in Ottawa.
Since it opened in 2007, Gridiron has placed 35 Ottawa-area athletes in top flight US colleges, often with scholarships.
Tedondo says his training program helps football players improve their speed and strength, but also to move forward with the right outlook and attitude.
“We really push them to become better people. Stay humble, be thankful, work hard and make a difference in the real world,” he said.
Luiji Vilain started with Tedondo when he was an unimposing 11-year-old. Now, the Gloucester area product hopes four years at Michigan University and one more at Wake Forest University helped prepare him for professional football.
Vilain said it’s still unique being a Canadian in American college football.
“[Many people are] definitely surprised, “he said.” I lost my Canadian accent. It’s not as prominent as it used to be. “
Impressing scouts ahead of draft
Three other local products hope to be chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft on the last weekend of April. A total of 259 players will be chosen by NFL teams, while others might sign on as undrafted free agents after the draft.
Jesse Luketa expects to be chosen, and he made a positive impression at the recent Senior Bowl. The 250-pound linebacker impressed scouts with his ability to rush the quarterback and make plays.
Jesse Luketa has had a nice week.
That lower body twitch makes him a nightmare for blockers in space. pic.twitter.com/QIVU85lJtw
Osgoode’s Liam Dobson, a former student at St. Mark Catholic High School who graduated to Maine and most recently the Texas State Bobcats, has drawn attention from both Canadian and American pro scouts.
He was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 2021 Canadian Football League draft, but spent another year in college hoping to make it in the US
Patrice Rene grew up in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighborhood and attended high school in Orléans. He also went throug the gauntlet with “coach Vic” at the Gridiron Academy, before going to the University of North Carolina and then Rutgers University.
Standing 6’2 “, the defensive back is finishing his master’s degree and hopes to be chosen alongside his fellow locals.
“This draft class speaks volumes,” Rene said of the amount of talent produced from the nation’s capital.
Rene also said he’ll train Sunday morning before watching the Super Bowl with his girlfriend and cheering on Cincinnati.