EE Football Team goes local drafting Golden Bears' Nelson in first round

The six-foot-six, 312-pound defensive tackle out of the University of Alberta couldn’t have drawn up a better draft board, himself

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On a draft day where no one knew exactly how it was going to work out given the effects of COVID-19 over the past year, it all worked out better than expected for Cole Nelson.

The six-foot-six, 312-pound defensive tackle out of the University of Alberta couldn’t have drawn up a better draft board, himself, than the one that played out in real life Tuesday, when he was taken in the first round (fifth overall) by the Edmonton Football Team.

But a top-five pick in a draft class of Canadians who didn’t get to play their senior year?

And to his hometown CFL club, no less?

“I’m just blown away,” the 24-year-old sociology major told Postmedia from his family’s farm near Ponoka, mere moments after hearing his name called on the TSN broadcast. “I was expecting, since I wasn’t talked about too much, I was hoping third, fourth round. I was pretty sure I’d get drafted by the end.

“Oh, sorry. The head coach is calling me right now.”

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That would be his new head coach, as in the EE’s Jaime Elizondo, who was calling to welcome his first draftee since becoming the head coach of Edmonton on Feb. 1.

University of Alberta Golden Bears football head coach Chris Morris has a laugh during the team’s annual spring training camp at Foote Field in Edmonton on April 27, 2014. Trevor Robb / Postmedia, file
University of Alberta Golden Bears football head coach Chris Morris has a laugh during the team’s annual spring training camp at Foote Field in Edmonton on April 27, 2014. Trevor Robb / Postmedia, file Photo by Trevor Robb /Postmedia, file

Meanwhile, Nelson’s former head coach, Chris Morris with the Golden Bears program Nelson spent the past five years with, had nothing but good things to say about Edmonton’s top pick.

“I couldn’t be happier for him, it really is a big deal for him and his family. I just feel so great for them,” said Morris, a former offensive lineman with Edmonton, whose name is on the Wall of Honour at Commonwealth Stadium. “It’s a good opportunity for him. It’s a situation where he probably is arguably the best big athlete in the draft, so we knew when we saw his test results what he can do.

“I think they see him as someone they can develop into a long-term player in the CFL. So, it’s a great day for him, a great day for his family. I know he really wanted to make his parents proud, and his mom proud, and I think he’s definitely accomplished that.”

Beyond his sheer size, Nelson’s 25 repetitions on the bench press was fourth best in the CFL’s virtual combine, while recording a sub-five-second 40-yard sprint (4.96), along with a 4.76-second shuttle and a broad jump of over 9.5 feet.

And Edmonton’s top brass sees all the arrows on Nelson’s future pointing much further up.

“Six-six, 315 (pounds) and athletic as hell,” Edmonton general manager and vice-president of football operations Brock Sunderland replied in a text message shortly after making his first selection Tuesday. “Incredibly high ceiling.”

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Nelson joins 2019 draft pick Evan Machibroda (fifth round, 41st overall), a two-time, first-team all-Canadian out of Saskatchewan, as the only Canadian interior defensive linemen on Edmonton’s roster.

Running back Chuba Hubbard (30) of Oklahoma State. Brian Bahr, Getty Images, file
Running back Chuba Hubbard (30) of Oklahoma State. Brian Bahr, Getty Images, file Photo by Brian Bahr /Getty Images, file

CHOOSING CHUBA?

His path to the pros is beginning in the NFL after getting drafted in the fourth round (126th overall) by the Carolina Panthers on the weekend, but would it have been too much for football fans in Edmonton to hope against hope the rights to another homegrown talent, Chuba Hubbard, might have ended up going to Edmonton on Tuesday?

For Sunderland, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. This is, after all, the GM who used a fifth-round pick on Justin Senior, the top prospect from the 2017 CFL draft, who had already been drafted by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

But Senior, an offensive lineman who calls Montreal home, didn’t exactly lead all of American university football with 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns like the six-foot, 201-pound native of Sherwood Park did with Oklahoma State University in 2019.

“Being from here, it helps,” Sunderland told team play-by-play commentator Morley Scott ahead of the draft on an EE Exclusives segment on the team website. “We always want to take the best player possible to make the best possible roster. If you have someone who fits all of those checkmarks and he’s local, obviously it’s better if it’s equal in apples to apples. Fans are familiar with him, he’s familiar with the area. Usually, that’s a pretty good fit.

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“With him going where he went in the fourth round, that does make it challenging. He’s probably going to have a lot of opportunities and, for him, hopefully he has a long, productive NFL career.”

The challenge, of course, comes in deciding at what round do you spend a pick on gambling on whether the player would ever show up?

“That’s what you have to balance out,” said Sunderland. “Is the return worth the gamble?”

The Calgary Stampeders seemed to think so, hooking Hubbard’s rights in the fifth round (43rd overall).

Calgary Dinos linebacker Grant McDonald was selected in the second round, 14th overall, by the Edmonton Football Club in the 2021 CFL Draft on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Supplied / U of C Dinos Athletics
Calgary Dinos linebacker Grant McDonald was selected in the second round, 14th overall, by the Edmonton Football Club in the 2021 CFL Draft on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Supplied / U of C Dinos Athletics Photo by Supplied /U of C Dinos Athletics

DRAFT CLASS

Edmonton’s 2021 draft class includes:

  1. Fifth overall: DT Cole Nelson, Alberta
  2. Fourteenth overall: LB Grant McDonald, Calgary
  3. Twenty-third overall: RB Deonte Glover, Shepherd
  4. Thirty-second overall: WR Dominic Johnson, Buffalo
  5. Forty-first overall: OL Peter Kourtis, St. Mary’s
  6. Fiftieth overall: DB Kenan Clarke, Cornell

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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