From Queen’s to the Queen City

Gaels linebacker taken first overall in the CFL draft

Gaels’ linebacker Shomari Williams enters the field at last year’s Vanier Cup. His performance in the playoffs cemented his number one status.
Gaels’ linebacker Shomari Williams enters the field at last year’s Vanier Cup. His performance in the playoffs cemented his number one status.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The Gaels’ Vanier Cup win was only six months ago. After all the celebrations, parades and parties, many of the players have already felt the athletic effects of all their hard work and commitment. It’s clear the CFL has a renewed interest in the Gaels football program with the first overall draft of Shomari Williams.

Linebacker Shomari Williams was drafted first overall by the Saskatchewan Roughriders finally bringing the dream of a professional football career to reality. Williams’ interest in playing professional football brought him from Brampton to Houston.

However, in his third year at Houston, Williams began to struggle with football. The woes led his mentor, Michael Goff, strength and conditioning coach at Concordia University and former player of Sheahan’s, to step in. Goff contacted Sheahan about the possibility of Williams returning to Canada and playing football in the Tricolor. Sheahan said Williams’ decision to bring his athletic ability to Queen’s was ideal. Williams flourished into a star and the Gaels brought home the Vanier Cup. “It was a marriage made in heaven,” Sheahan said.

He feels especially excited about the Roughrider’s draft selection.

“I was extremely pleased,” he said. “Obviously an event like that, a first round selection, it’s like a pebble into a pond. It touches everyone: coaches, his former teammates. It brings a good deal of honour and prestige to Queen’s.”

The recent influx of former Gaels to the CFL is creating a lot of excitement within the football program. Seven Queen’s Gaels are hoping to suit up across the country for their respective teams come Canada Day. In addition to Shomari Williams being drafted first overall, linebacker Chris Smith was taken 28th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Following the signing of quarterback Danny Brannagan by the Toronto Argos this year, receiver Chris Ioannides (Winnipeg), defensive lineman Osie Ukwuoma (Winnipeg), linebacker Thaine Carter (Winnipeg), and defensive end Neil Puffer (Edmonton) have all signed with different professional teams.

If given the opportunity, many of these players will make an impact in different cities across Canada. The biggest impact, Sheahan says, is the one that’s felt in Kingston.

“I think you’d be naïve if you thought that players are not aware of where they can attend university and continue playing at an elite level,” he said. “This year’s success bodes well in the long run. It makes our program highly attractive because the formula is in place to create elite athletes.”

Just as Sheahan credited his player for his excellence on the field, Shomari Williams says he and his teammates have reaped the benefits of an excellent football program beginning with the coaching staff.

“It’s a great program,” he said earlier in an e-mail to the Journal. “We win games and the coaching staff prepares us to take our games to the next level. I think this trend will continue for years to come as long as the coaching stays together at Queen’s.”

Gaels games became a main showcase for CFL scouts to witness William’s talent and skills. As the Gaels progressed into the playoffs, the more games Williams played. The journey to the Vanier Cup allowed Williams to show his play not only during the regular season but under stressful situations like the playoff games against Western, Laval and Calgary.

Williams equally credits his work in the playoffs with his work all season. He says that his commitment and effort were defining reasons in his promotion to the number one draft pick after having been ranked 15th in September.

“[It was] hard work,” he said. “I worked really hard during the season to get to the number one spot and I had some excellent coaches at Queen’s to help guide me. Definitely I believe [playoff games] helped. It allowed me to play in more pressure games to show scouts what I can do.”

This season it won’t be the scouts watching, but the loud and rowdy Riders Nation, a sight to be seen. The fans are among the best of any sport in North America, he said, adding that he is excited to play in front of them and show them what he can do.

“Rider Nation is huge,” he said. “I can’t wait for the first kickoff of the 2010 season so that I can experience that crowd first hand.

“I am looking to contribute on special teams first and I would like to work my way into the defensive rotation. [I’m] just going to try and establish myself as a good football player on my team and in the league.” he said.

The congratulations continue to pile in. After finding out the Roughriders would be selecting him first overall, Williams and his family were obviously excited. He continues to strive to be the best and adds a new city to his football journey: Regina, the Queen City.

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