Football Gaels selected to go pro

Three key members of the Gaels’ top-ranked defence the is highest number drafted to CFL since 1993

Dee Sterling, seen here in a Sept. 27 game against the Western Mustangs, is the highest drafted Queen’s player since 1993.
Dee Sterling, seen here in a Sept. 27 game against the Western Mustangs, is the highest drafted Queen’s player since 1993.
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Former Gaels, from left: Dee Sterling, Osie Ukwuoma and Thaine Carter were drafted to the Canadian Football League on May 2.
Former Gaels, from left: Dee Sterling, Osie Ukwuoma and Thaine Carter were drafted to the Canadian Football League on May 2.
Photo: 

Three recent Queen’s graduates didn’t have to look long for a job.

Football linemen Dee Sterling and Osie Ukwuoma and linebacker Thaine Carter were drafted to the Canadian Football League on May 2. Sterling was selected 12th overall in the second round by the Edmonton Eskimos, the first OUA player to go in the draft. While Ukwuoma went 40th to the Calgary Stampeders and Carter was chosen 45th by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Gaels were three of 38 CIS players selected in the 48-player draft, the most since the 1970s. The last time this many Gaels were drafted, in 1993, Queen’s won the Vanier Cup.

Sterling was the highest picked Gael since running back Brad Elberg was drafted second overall in 1993.

Sterling impressed scouts at a Toronto evaluation camp in March, earning a seventh place overall ranking from the CFL Scouting Bureau.

Sterling, who was out with friends when he was drafted, said the Edmonton selection came as a surprise.

“We had a pint and patiently waited for the call. I didn’t hear from anyone until 10 minutes before it was announced on television.”

The Queen’s football program supported the eligible players during their preparation for evaluation camp. Sterling said the team’s trainers helped the players develop a training regimen that simulated the tests at evaluation camp.

“Our trainer Rodney [Wilson] helped us plan a schedule that we stuck to religiously,” he said.

Dan McKinnon, the Edmonton Eskimos’ manager of Football Operation/Canadian Scouting said Sterling’s performance in Toronto met their expectations. They’d been observing him throughout the 2008-09 season.

“He just confirmed what we thought he could do,” he said. “We’re not sure what he can do at the pro level but we know how strong he is athletically.”

McKinnon said the Eskimo management has a strong relationship with the Queen’s football program, which sends them game tape every week. He said Queen’s players are desirable additions.

“They bring in strong talent,” he said. “Queen’s students are pretty good students; their ablility to understand what [Sheahan]’s teaching combined with their athletic ability get pretty good results.”

He said it’s not significant when a player is selected.

“It’s dependant on each team’s priorities,” he said. “It’s not important when he’s drafted; it’s what he does after he’s drafted.”

Carter suffered a calf injury a week before evaluations, dropping him to the sixth round from his projected second round selection. He said several teams had been in touch with him before the draft, but only Winnipeg was willing to gamble on the injured linebacker.

“I’m fully recovered now and [other teams are] going to be wishing they picked me,” he said. “I’m really thankful the Blue Bombers took a chance on me.”

Carter said slowing his preparation was never an option.

“I was doing two-a-day workouts which was challenging because it was during midterms,” he said. “I am a competitor. I was training to be best and perform the best.”

The three athletes leave for their new homes at the beginning of June for training camp. Carter said he anticipates differences between CIS and CFL level football.

“We’re playing with men now,” he said. “These guys are providing for families. It’s a paid job. You’re held accountable for how you perform and that pressure is going to be intense, but on defence we live for the pressure.”

He said he predicts the transition will be just as humbling as it was when he came from high school to university.

“All the accolades are good, but the other guys are going to be equally or more qualified,” he said. “You’ve just got to put on the boots and hard hat and go to work.”

Sterling, Ukwuoma, and Carter join five other Queen’s alumni in the CFL: Mike Giffin of the Montreal Alouettes, Rob Bagg and Kevin Scott of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Matt Kirk of the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Bryan Crawford of the Toronto Argonauts. Carter said he’s proud of his teammates’ accomplishments, but when he meets them on the field it will be all business.

“We’re all competitive,” he said. “We’re great friends, but when that whistle blows we’re going to play each other like they were anyone else.”

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