Gaels abound in CFL

Bryan Crawford celebrates a touchdown with his teammates.
Image supplied by: Emily MacLaurin-King
Bryan Crawford celebrates a touchdown with his teammates.

In the next few weeks, some of this past year’s top Golden Gaels performers will be suiting up, not in the tricolour, but in different shades of red, yellow and blue.

On April 27, two players—both Golden Gaels football stars—sat in their respective Kingston homes with housemates and friends as they watched their Internet browsers slowly update the results from the 2005 Canadian Football League draft.

In the end, Gaels wide receiver Iain Fleming—a four-year player for the Gaels who last year scored five TDs on 579 yards receiving—went to the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the fifth round of the draft and 41st overall. Minutes later, with the 44th pick in the fifth round, Bryan Crawford—the Gaels leading

rusher the past three seasons—went to defending Grey Cup champions the Toronto Argonauts. Crawford ran for 685 yards last year with 4 TDs.

The number of Golden Gaels players drafted this year matched the 2004 draft total, when defensive end Matt Kirk was selected by the Ottawa Renegades and Mark Mitchell was selected to play linebacker for Calgary, where he has excelled.

Every other day for the past three weeks, Fleming has been making the commute from Toronto to Hamilton to join Crawford and several current CFL players for workouts. Fleming told the Journal his workouts in Ivor Wynn Stadium have been useful preparation for training camp. “[Veteran CFL wide receiver] Mike Morreale has been watching me play and helping me out,” Fleming said. “It’s great having veterans helping out on the field and in the gym.”

Fleming and Crawford both emphasized that having former teammates around in the preparatory stages has been beneficial.

Five other former Gaels have been training in Hamilton. They include former Hec Creighton trophy winner Tom Denison—who currently is looking for a team for next year—along with Mark Mitchell, who will attend the Stampeders’ training camp in two weeks and Craig Spear, former OUA all-star and Gaels wide receiver.

“It is great to develop with other Queen’s guys—it adds a level of comfort,” Fleming said.

Moving on to CFL camp is not a surprising step for both these players.

“Since we arrived together in first year, Iain and I talked about first working together to help out Queen’s and then stepping to the next level together,” Crawford said. “I’m going out wanting to play in the CFL this year.” For Crawford, the battle will be both at the running back position and on special teams, which he excelled at during his time at the University.

“Most teams are looking for Canadians who can make an impact and can do what other backs can do,” Crawford said. “I have to show I can get downfield and use my special teams experience.”

Currently there are four other running backs who will be competing in training camp with Crawford. Two of them are Canadians and the other is former NFL first round draft pick John Avery.

Crawford’s experience trying out with the defending champion Argos will be different than Fleming’s with the Tiger Cats. Fleming and the other Tiger Cats rookies will be front and centre to the media hype surrounding former McMaster running back and CIS all-time leading rusher Jesse Lumsden. Lumsden, who broke the rushing record against the Gaels last year, has been splitting time between Hamilton and Seattle, where he is attempting to join the short list of Canadians in the NFL.

However, Fleming said he looks forward to training with Lumsden.

“It will be great to play alongside him, to see his abilities,” he said. “He also will take all the razzing from the veterans and keep them away from the other rookies.” Training camp gets underway in two weeks with two-a-days taking place across Canada. The final rosters for CFL teams will be set by late June.

With camps approaching, Crawford, Fleming, Kirk, defensive end Jack Gaudreau, and former Gael defensive tackle Corey Trudeau—who will convert to a linebacker for Edmonton’s training camp—and are all optimistic about their chances to stick with CFL teams.

Of these players, Kirk, Crawford and Fleming still have eligibility and could return to the Gaels next year. But right now the 2005 Golden Gaels football season is not the focus for these players. For Fleming training camp was about getting on the field and showing what he could do.

“I just have to go out and play hard,” he said. “I’m excited about getting started—it feels good to be out there with the team.”

“I want to stick and become a pro football player,” Crawford said.

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