Hamilton Tiger-Cats general manager Eric Tillman, left, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall, right, chat while assessing talent during the 2017 CFL Combine at the Co-operators Centre in Regina. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Senior still tops CFL top-20 prospects list

TORONTO — Johnny Augustine’s pro stock is on the rise.

On Thursday, the Guelph Gryphons running back cracked the CFL scouting bureau’s final top-20 prospects list leading up to the May 7 draft. After being bypassed in previous listings, the five-foot-eight, 202-pound Augustine earned the No. 17 spot after a solid showing at last month’s combine in Regina.

Following that performance, Augustine boldy declared he was the top running back in the draft and a future CFL starter. He wasn’t moving off those proclamations Thursday.

“That’s my mentality,” he said during a conference call. “It’s one thing to make it to the CFL and make a roster but my goal at the end of the day is to be a starting running back.

“I want to do great things … my dream is to leave my mark in the professional ranks. This was the first step and the next step, obviously, is getting my spot on whatever team is willing to take me and competing and fighting for the No. 1 spot.”

Last season, Augustine ran for 563 yards on 108 carries (5.2-yard average) with three TDs while adding seven catches for 55 yards. He tested well in Regina — 22 reps in the bench, 4.77-second 40-yard dash, 30.5-inch vertical — but really shined in the one-on-one drills, impressing as a runner, receiver and blocker.

“I just didn’t show one thing,” he said. “In today’s game as a running back you’ve got to be successful in doing a lot of things in a lot of areas.

“I think that’s what I did to impress all the general managers.”

Augustine wasn’t the only player to rise.

Ottawa’s Eli Ankou, a defensive lineman from UCLA, moved up one spot to No. 2 while Winnipeg’s Geoff Gray, an offensive lineman at Manitoba, jumped two positions to No. 3.

McMaster receiver Danny Vandervoort of Barrie, Ont., is at No. 4 — up three positions — while Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie of Brampton, Ont., vaulted six spots to No. 5.

Montreal’s Justin Senior, an offensive lineman from Mississippi State, remained the top prospect. It’s position he’s held since the first list was released in September.

Rounding out the top-10 in order were Maine linebacker Christophe Mulumba of Montreal (from No. 8); Laval tight end Antony Auclair of Notre Dame des Pins, Que., (down from No. 2); Idaho offensive lineman Mason Woods of Port Coquitlam, B.C., (from No. 10); Carleton receiver Nathaniel Behar of London, Ont., (from No. 12); and Bethune-Cookman offensive lineman Dariusz Bladek (from No. 15).

The six-foot-one, 203-pound Vandervoort had 34 catches for 631 yards and five TDs last year. Over four seasons at McMaster, he registered 148 receptions and 2,572 yards and 29 touchdowns, the latter being the third-most in U Sports football history.

But Canadian university football’s top rookie in 2013 felt his performance in the one-on-one drills in Regina helped boost his draft stock.

“I think the combine helped me immensely,” he said. “I think I showed the scouts I’m a good player and can test well.

“The one-on-ones helped separate me from the other receivers in the draft. It’s really exciting to see my name in the top five.”

And like Augustine, Vandervoot has eyes on becoming a CFL starter.

“You always want to be the best at your position so this is a huge step for me being a starter,” he said. “Hopefully one day I’ll be able to reach that.”

The path to pro football has been a long one for Bladek, a New Jersey native who skipped his senior season at Bethune-Cookman for the 2016 NFL draft. After not being selected, the six-foot-four, 299-pound Bladek began the process of becoming a dual citizen as his mother is Canadian.

But the paperwork wasn’t completed in time for either the 2016 CFL draft or supplemental draft, forcing Bladek to put his pro aspirations on hold.

“The process was long, stressful … I didn’t expect to have to wait the whole year,” he said. “It’s always risky being out of football that long and for me it was a risk that was unknown.

“But I trusted my gut, I trusted the people who advised me.”

Participating at the national combine marked Bladek’s first-ever visit to Canada.

“My first experience in Canada was amazing, I had a great time,” he said. ”Being a professional, that’s an everyday thing.

“I’m excited to get that started and I think May 7 is really the start of that for all of us.”

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