Brady Oliveira during his time with Oak Park.
Last Thursday was a special evening for the Winnipeg High School Football League (WHSFL), as seven of its former players were taken in the annual CFL draft.
That number brings the WHSFL’s total count in the league to 17, nearly doubling down from the year prior.
"To have seven WHSFL alumni be taken in this year's CFL draft is beyond exciting and also very humbling as it shows the legacy that our coaches are leaving on their athletes and the tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifices these young men are making not only on the field but off," commissioner Jeffrey Bannon said.
"Through their academic success and now their on the field success the future is bright for these young men and we all look forward to following their CFL careers. We'll be cheering for them weekly!"
The first alum off the board was running back Brady Oliveira, who went in the second round, 14th overall to his hometown team the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. His addition provides the squad with valuable Canadian depth at the position, behind Johnny Augustine and lead man Andrew Harris.
Oliveira made a name for himself while at Oak Park High School, where he was the Division 1 Rookie of the Year in 2012 as well as ANAVETS Bowl champion in his senior year. The latter of those two successes occurred in a season where he shattered the regular season record for total touchdowns (27), rushing touchdowns (26) points (163) and yards (1,723). Oliveira’s play didn’t go unnoticed, as he earned an NCAA Division 1 scholarship with UND and didn’t look back, amassing 2,822 yards and 22 touchdowns during his university career.
Offensive lineman Zack Williams was the next to find a home, going in the third round, 28th overall to the Calgary Stampeders. A product of Murdoch MacKay, he put on over 30 pounds of muscle entering his grade 11 season and didn’t look back, starting every game at left tackle.
He chose to forego his senior year, instead strapping the pads on for the Winnipeg Rifles, where he was named Rookie of the Year. Williams then transitioned to the Manitoba Bisons roster where he demonstrated his versatility, lining up at multiple positions on the line while becoming one of the conference’s most feared and respected players up front.
Receiver Shai Ross got his name called shorty after, going in the fifth round, 40th overall to the Edmonton Eskimos. His roots in the sport can be traced back to Dakota Collegiate, where he gave the sport a try for the first time in his senior year of high school. He then played a season with the St. Vital Mustangs major junior team in 2014, earning all-star status.
Following a one-year stint with Okanagan he returned home, becoming a conference all-star with the Manitoba Bisons and later on, the standout of both the CFL’s regional and national combines.
The Bombers went local again in the sixth round, selecting defensive lineman Tariq Lachance 52nd overall. An alum of Vincent Massey Collegiate, he demonstrated his versatility, also suiting up at running back, quarterback, tight end, linebacker and offensive line during different portions of his football tenure.
He took reps at both linebacker and defensive line during the national combine, showing his drive and tenacity and is a valuable special teams player with has endured a significant amount of trials in his life but has bounced back exceptionally well.
The fifth WHSFL player to go was defensive end Derek Dufault, taken in the seven round, 58th overall to Hamilton.
Another product of Dakota Collegiate, Dufault led Division 1 in sacks in his grade 11 season with ten and was named Defensive Player of the Year the following year, which included a six sack game against powerhouse St. Paul’s.
He committed to the U of M when he was still 16, becoming the youngest recruit in the history of the program. The rest is history as Dufault was a rotational player as a rookie and didn’t leave the starting lineup at any point afterwards.
Also taken in the seventh round was fellow defensive end Samson Abbott, who went 63rd overall to the Ottawa Redblacks.
Abbott was a dominant force on some exceptional defensive teams at St. Paul’s High School, going a combined 20-0 including two provincial championships. He then headed to the University of Alberta for a couple of seasons, where he led the team in sacks as a rookie in 2015 and was also an immense contributor on special teams. The latter of those qualities continued when he returned home to play for Manitoba last season, where he was widely known as one of the top special teamers in the conference.
Defensive back Cody Cranston — another St. Paul’s alum — was the final WHSFL player taken off the board, going three picks later, 66th overall to the Montreal Alouettes. He’ll also be joining his brother Ty who was drafted by the same team two years prior and also played for the Crusaders.
The rangy 6’2” 175-pounder enjoyed a plethora of success as another key member of St. Paul’s defence as well as a teammate of Abbott's. He carried his success over to the University of Ottawa, where he amassed 110 tackles and seven interceptions over four seasons.