Ticats select Saskatchewan safety Dylan Barker first overall in CFL draft

TORONTO — Bob O'Billovich couldn't believe his good fortune.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats general manager went into Wednesday's Canadian college draft projecting Saskatchewan Huskies safety Dylan Barker and Sherbrooke receiver Sam Giguere as the top two prospects. O'Billovich, looking to rebuild a team that was 3-15 last year, took Barker first overall, then anxiously sweated it out waiting to see if Giguere would still be there when Hamilton capped the opening round selecting at No. 8.

Roughly 90 minutes later, a relieved O'Billovich saw Giguere was still available, enabling Hamilton to secure its two most coveted prospects. But only after the Montreal Alouettes, selecting seventh overall, opted for Shea Emry, the highly rated British Columbia Thunderbirds linebacker, and not the French-born star receiver.

"We weren't sure," O'Billovich said of the Als. "But we were able to get the two top-ranked guys on our board in terms of ability, we thought they were the two best guys in the draft so we can't be any happier about what happened."

On Monday, O'Billovich traded the No. 9 pick to B.C. for defensive back Markeith Knowlton and Canadian kicker Ara Tchobanian. O'Billovich believes Knowlton will play linebacker with Hamilton.

The draft offered a different twist for fans. TSN provided a slick presentation in carrying the first two rounds on its website. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon announced each selection of the opening two rounds and the picks were discussed by the CFL on TSN panel, newcomer Duane Forde and special guests Greg Marshall, a former CFL coach of the year now with the Western Mustangs, and Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Brian Towriss.

O'Billovich entertained several offers for the No. 1 selection but none exceeded the value the six-foot-four, 200-pound Barker brought. The hard-hitting native of Moose Jaw, Sask., has been compared to Rob Hitchcock, the rugged Ticats safety who for years anchored the club's secondary. Barker's size also provides the flexibility of one day playing him at linebacker.

"I'm thrilled to be a Ticat," said Barker, the first defensive back taken first overall since 1993. "I hope I can bring something to this team and add another body that will make more plays out there.

"I'm excited to head to camp."

The five-foot-11, 220-pound Giguere was Canadian university football's second-leading receiver last year with 45 catches for 871 yards and seven touchdowns. A physical specimen, Giguere has speed to burn and impressed at the CFL evaluation camp with a 42-inch vertical jump.

"Hamilton comes out with two very talented football players who both have the potential to be elite players in the CFL," said Darren Gill, the agent for both Barker and Giguere. "Dylan and Samuel will be a nice complement to the already impressive group of young talented Canadians that Hamilton already has."

There was a trade for the No. 2 pick as Edmonton sent it and the 16th overall selection to Calgary for offensive lineman John Comiskey, rookie receiver Kevin Challenger and the 11th and 19th picks. The Stampeders then took Dimitri Tsoumpas, a six-foot-four, 315-pound offensive guard who started 25 straight games at Weber State. The Edmonton native was a 2006 honourable mention All-Big Sky Conference all-star.

Calgary continued shoring up its offensive line at No. 3 with Jesse Newman, a native of Powell River, B.C., who was a four-year starter at Louisiana-Lafayette. The six-foot-four, 310-pound tackle was a Sunbelt Conference first-team all-star last season and selected his school's top pro prospect.

"Coming into the draft, Jesse was a player we really wanted," said Stampeders coach-GM John Hufnagel said. "He's a four-year starter at left tackle and will be ready to compete at training camp.

"With him and Dimitri Tsoumpas we added depth, youth and talent to our offensive line."

The offensive line was certainly a focus as four of the eight first-round picks and seven of the first 16 were for linemen. The B.C. Lions took six-foot-seven, 327-pound tackle Justin Sorensen of South Carolina with the fifth pick before Winnipeg selected the University of Regina's Brendon LaBatte, a six-foot-four, 320-pound native of Weyburn, Sask., at No. 6, the first time the Bombers made a first-round selection since 2000.

B.C. will have to wait for Sorensen, of Parksville, B.C., who's returning to school and could garner NFL interest next year.

Grey Cup-champion Saskatchewan used its first two picks on future prospects. The Riders selected Central Florida defensive lineman Keith Shologan, a six-foot-two, 290-pound native of Spruce Grove, Alta., fourth overall before taking Illinois State's Jonathan St-Pierre, a six-foot-three centre from Montreal, at No. 10 (second pick of second round).

Shologan has signed with the NFL's San Diego Chargers while St-Pierre returns to school this fall.

Saskatchewan made an interesting trade with B.C., giving up an '09 first-round selection to secure the No. 14 pick and land Regina native Michael Stadnyk a six-foot-four, 247-pound defensive lineman returning to the University of Montana this fall.

Edmonton made its first pick at No. 11, selecting Western Michigan University offensive lineman Greg Wojt. But the six-foot-four, 285-pound Mississauga, Ont., native still has a year of NCAA eligibility remaining.

Montreal had its eye on the future when it selected Boise State offensive lineman Andrew Woodruff in the second round, 12th overall. The six-foot-three, 320-pound Victoria native returns to school this fall and has definite NFL potential.

The Toronto Argonauts didn't have a first-round pick but found value in the second (No. 13 overall) in McMaster receiver Mike Bradwell. The six-foot-three, 200-pound Toronto native led Canadian university football in receiving yards (958) last year.

"He's a talented, athletic receiver with outstanding size and speed," Argos assistant GM Greg Mohns said of Bradwell. "We feel he will blend in nicely with our existing Canadian talent."

Winnipeg also fared well with its second-and third-round picks. The Bombers picked up Aaron Hargreaves, a six-foot-one, 215-pound receiver from Simon Fraser, with the 15th overall pick, then took Windsor running back Daryl Stephenson at No. 24.

Hargreaves had 45 catches for 556 yards and a touchdown to earn Canada West all-star honours last year. The six-foot-two, 220-pound Stephenson captured the 2006 Hec Crighton Trophy after rushing for 1,140 yards and 11 TDs and was Canadian university football's top rusher in '05 with 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns.