Augustine on draft journey: ‘I made it and I was meant to be here’

WINNIPEG — Just over a week ago, Kyle Walters and yours truly were conversing about how the already-inexact science that is the Canadian Football League Draft is that much more imprecise courtesy the global pandemic. The meat of that discussion can be found in this piece.

Anyway, it was after that chat when I ventured back to take a look at the 2016 CFL Draft – especially given the consensus in many sports that it takes five years to truly evaluate a draft class.

The Bombers did well in the ’16 Draft despite not having a first-round pick in selecting defensive end Trent Corney ninth, centre Michael Couture 10th, Taylor Loffler 19th, Shayne Gauthier 28th – all of whom suited up for the club.

Yet, just to reinforce the inexact part of all this we need to jump forward one year to 2017. The Bombers had eight picks in that draft, including the first-overall selection, which they used to choose Iowa defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie. The only player from the Bombers ’17 draft class who has made a significant contribution is guard Geoff Gray, grabbed eighth overall.

Still, there’s another player on the Bombers’ roster who made a solid contribution in the Grey Cup season of 2019, including two impressive starts, and has established himself as a quality CFLer. Funny thing about all that… despite shining at the National Combine in 2017, he wasn’t drafted, but instead signed as a free agent afterward with Edmonton. He would make his CFL debut with Bombers, it’s worth noting, but not until being cut by both Edmonton and Saskatchewan.

Ladies and gentlemen… we give you Johnny Augustine.

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Johnny Augustine went undrafted, but he’s made the most of his opportunities, helping Winnipeg capture the 107th Grey Cup in 2019. (BlueBombers.com)

“Going back to that combine, I trained so hard, like extremely hard, to get ready,” began Augustine in a chat with bluebombers.com from his off-season home in Niagara, Ont. “It had always been a passion of mine to play pro. Once my season ended in Guelph in November of 2016, the next day, I was in the weight room.

“I lived in Guelph and drove one hour every day to Toronto to train, while working and going to school as a university student. I was working full-time just to pay for my training and gas. When the combine was done, I had spent over $5,000 just to get ready for it.

“I was so excited to get invited to the National Combine. I had the right people in my corner and knew what I wanted and so I poured everything into the combine. I knew I was ‘known’ going in, but I also knew I didn’t have a big-time ranking or anything. My mindset was I wanted to come into the combine and show them I was a good football player.”

Augustine was one of the surprises of the Combine, testing well and then jumping out in the one-on-one drills. He went from an off-the-radar prospect before the affair to a player suddenly on every team’s radar screen.

Or, so he thought.

“Yeah, what happened after the combine… it was all so very disheartening,” Augustine admitted. “There were a lot of things going into the combine that I wasn’t sure about. But the one thing I felt confident about afterward was, ‘I’m going to be drafted.’

“So, after the combine everybody was messaging me and my closest friends were telling me to have a draft party. I said I didn’t want that because I don’t like that kind of stuff.

“I got suckered into it and so I did have a party with some of the people closest to me. I had talked to every team going up to it, and after the combine I had been ranked in the Top 20. There was a buzz happening. I went from a guy just being at the combine to a guy who had his stock go up. I wondered how high I was going to go based on what I was hearing.

“So, the first round passed and that didn’t surprise me because that’s usually dominated by linemen. Then the second round goes by and I start seeing other running backs go ahead of me. I started to wonder ‘What’s happening?’

“It was one of the hardest times in my life,” added Augustine. “We’re watching into the fourth and fifth rounds and other running backs are going ahead of me. Honestly, I was so embarrassed I had to leave the room. I just told everyone I needed to take a walk. That was tough, I’m not going to lie. I’m not afraid to say I cried because that was my dream.

“But I remember telling myself that this was just a stumble and I had to keep going. The next day after the draft, I went to the gym and people were shocked to see me. I just kept working.”

(BlueBombers.com)

Edmonton signed Augustine as a free agent and he was sent back to Guelph after camp. Lining up at a tight-end/halfback spot in their camp, Augustine worked at receiver for the first five games with the Gryphons.

Edmonton cut him adrift that winter and Saskatchewan signed him. He attended a Roughriders free-agent camp in Florida that spring, but was cut. Signed by the Bombers in mid-May of 2018, Augustine had a superb preseason and earned a spot on the squad.

A year later, he made his two pro starts for Andrew Harris, rushing for 98 yards against the Riders in the Labour Day Classic and then racking up 138 yards from scrimmage – and scoring a touchdown – a week later in a win in the Banjo Bowl.

During our conversation, Augustine and I looked back at some of the picks in the 2017 CFL Draft – not to open up old wounds, but as a validation for the work he put in despite not getting drafted to make it professionally.

“It’s a business, I understand that. And teams have to study the measurables,” he said. “I hear people once in a while say, ‘Wow, you played with Winnipeg and you won a Grey Cup!’ But a lot of people don’t know about the journey.

“(Not being drafted) was tough, but I’m not sure I’d change the story now because I’m here. I made it and I was meant to be here.”

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