Every year it seems as if the number of Ottawa football players going to the next level just continues to grow. The football community in Ottawa is in uncharted waters right now. They have never been in the position that they are in right now. In fact, they haven’t even really been close to this before. For many, it is something that they have dreamt of, but having the kind of talent that they have in the city now, as well as the coaching and exposure is something new, and it’s only going to grow moving into the future.
Over the past few years we have seen Eli Ankou and Neville Gallimore compete in the NFL as well as Jackson Bennett, Dan Basambombo, Michael O’Connor, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and other CFL players from the city make it to the professional stage, however this year may be a record year for the nation’s capital. Not everyone will be first round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas like we may like to see later down the road, however there is a real shot that we see more than one Ottawa-raised player drafted into the NFL this year.
One player that is a sure fire NFL talent would be linebacker and edge rusher Jesse Luketa. Luketa, from South Ottawa originally, an alumnus of St Patrick’s High School in Ottawa has played the last 4 seasons at Penn State in the Big 10. Last season as a senior he made 53 tackles, a sack and scored a touchdown on a pick six. The season earned himself a spot in the NFL Combine and at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Despite getting hurt at the NFL Combine in early March, his performance at the Senior Bowl in February will have a significant impact on his NFL Draft stock. He dominated throughout the week and eventually had two sacks in the game. With his Penn State pro day on March 24th, he has the potential of being as high as a 3rd round pick if he performs well and has good interviews.
Outside of Luketa, who is almost guaranteed to be drafted in the NFL Draft this April, Luiji Vilain also has a good shot of making his way into the NFL. His collegiate career hasn’t been one bit flashy, having suffered injuries while at Michigan, but after having a productive 2021 season at Wake Forest, there is an NFL opportunity looming for Vilain. He made 34 tackles, 9 sacks, forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble and registered 3 QB hits over his final collegiate season, and his only at Wake Forest. Vilain also went on to compete at the College Gridiron Showcase in Texas in front of a number of NFL scouts. What really will determine his spot in the NFL would be his pro day on March 30th at Wake Forest. Depending on his performance there, in a deep defensive draft, he may be able to find his way into the Draft or get an undrafted free agent contract.
There is also Rutgers defensive back Patrice Rene, Maine defensive back Katley Joseph and Louisiana Tech offensive lineman Chris Fournier who have NCAA experience behind them, and are in this year’s NFL Draft. They each have a shot at making it in the NFL but do have the CFL to back onto if the NFL does not workout for them.
Alongside them is Liam Dobson who played on the offensive line at Maine and most recently suited up at Texas State. Dobson has already signed a contract in the USFL with the New Orleans Breakers, but is still eligible to sign with an NFL team if the interest is there.
There are also a number of USports players with the opportunity to play in the NFL if there is interest. From Ottawa (grew up in Barhaven) would be Deionte Knight, defensive end at Western. He won the 2021 J.P Metras Trophy, leading Canada with 7.5 sacks at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. Knight played in front of NFL scouts at the East-West Shrine Game in January and recently performed at the University of Buffalo pro day. He is looked at as a top prospect in the 2022 CFL Draft, but if he is signed into the NFL, it wouldn’t be the first time they go out and get a USports defensive lineman.