Tait: More on the Bombers and the ’21 CFL Draft

To call the past few days in Liam Dobson’s life a ‘whirlwind’ would be underselling just how tumultuous his world has been since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers called out his name third overall in this week’s Canadian Football League Draft.

Draft night was special for the big University of Maine/Texas State offensive lineman, who watched the event unfold from San Marcos, Texas with his family connected via FaceTime.

And then on Wednesday the big offensive lineman was putting the finishing touches on an English paper before his semester finished.

The topic of that paper, for those just itching to know?

“I chose the prison system and third-party contracting in America,” said Dobson during a phone interview with bluebombers.com. “Prison does change a lot of people for the better, so I wanted to write about third-party contracting as a negative aspect because those companies are often more concerned about the money component and keeping people in prison than rehabilitating them and releasing them.”

When told his description of the paper alone would be worth an ‘A’ from this perch, Dobson chuckled and added:

“Thank you. Can you talk to my teacher for me?”

There’s a lot to like about the Bombers first-round draft pick, from his dunking a basketball to his ability to move the pile at the line of scrimmage to his sense of humour.

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Strip away the layers even further and there’s the constant references to his family and the role they played in getting him to the cusp of the professional ranks – an important fact to consider, especially with Mother’s Day this weekend.

“I think about all the sacrifices they’ve had to make… driving me to training, taking me to practices… paying for my proteins… all that stuff,” he said. “There’s that and all the support they’ve shown to me over the years, including coming to my games. They’ve been there for years and it just means so much.

“I’m still so very excited about being drafted. It’s been tough being away from them – I haven’t seen my family in about a year and a half-two years because of COVID. So, just being able to share that moment with them over FaceTime was amazing.”

Both of Dobson’s parents are now retired from the teaching profession. Martha taught geography and history before serving as a guidance counsellor. Dave actually had him as a student in Grade 7, teaching him both science and phys ed.

“So… I got at least two A’s on my report card in seventh grade,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m kidding. He was a hard grader.”

Dobson also draws a great deal of motivation from his younger sister, Ainsley. She has Williams syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disorder that features ‘mild learning or developmental challenges.’

“She’s very important to me and extremely motivational, just seeing the way she approaches life and deals with hard situations,” he said.
“It’s just motivating to see how she gets through things.

“She has difficulties other people might not have difficulty with, like simple math and reading. She knows it’s hard for her, but she sticks to it and works hard and is able to do it.

“So, whenever I’m in a situation where I’m having a hard time with something at school or learning a new scheme, she taught me about hard work.”

Dobson played all sports growing up, starting with Timbits hockey and basketball and then adding football, volleyball and rugby by high school.

Liam Dobson played hockey and basketball as a kid in Ottawa but knew football was his true calling (Photo: Maine Blackbears Athletics)

His basketball skills included him playing for the Ottawa Guardsmen club program although, “there’s not a lot of power forwards who are 6-3, 340. I had to find another sport.”

Dobson figures he was six-foot-three in Grade 6 and hit the 300-pound mark as a freshman in high school and can still put away the calories.

“I eat quite a bit,” he said. “I like to eat. I like to cook. It’s hard to get this big if you don’t like to cook. I’m finding lots of good barbecue down here in Texas and I’ve had to restrain myself a couple of times because I’m a big barbecue fan.”

After playing primarily defensive line and fullback in high school, Dobson was moved to the offensive line during his freshman year at the University of Maine and by 2019 he was a conference all-star.

The Bombers are willing to wait on Dobson as he plays this coming season with Texas State and, possibly, draws NFL interest.

“Talking to Coach O’Shea on the phone was an amazing feeling,” said Dobson. “He just welcomed me to the team and said they would track my progress this season and then welcome me with open arms next year.

“It makes me feel like I have a home in Canada and so when I get up there it will be ‘Go time.’ As I keep saying, the last few days have been amazing.”

More on Dobson and other notes and quotes in this week’s edition of 1st& 10…

1. The day after the draft Bombers GM Kyle Walters met with the media and compared Dobson’s demeanour and skill set to the legendary Chris Walby.

“I saw that on Twitter. Obviously, that’s a great honour,” said Dobson. “That’s somebody who played the game at the highest level and was dominant… just being put in the same sentence as him is such an honour. Hopefully I can live up to that praise and get to meet him one day and maybe learn from him as well.”

2. Just FYI, yours truly sent Dobson some background information, just so he could get a sense of who he was being compared to, and included this video from Walby’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame induction.

If you haven’t seen it previously, it does perfectly capture the story behind one of the greatest linemen in CFL history.

3. One more on Dobson… his ability to get his six-foo-three, 344-pound frame up high enough to dunk a basketball hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Dobson made Bruce Feldman’s ‘2020 college football Freaks List’ at The Athletic. Here’s what Feldman wrote of Dobson:

Liam Dobson, Maine, offensive line
Freakiest attribute: Agility
The Canadian import was an FCS All-America candidate thanks to a ton of power but at 6-3, 340, he also moves surprisingly well. He’s vertical jumped 29 inches, which is eye-popping given his dimensions, and his broad jump is 8-6.5. His shuttle time was 4.84 and his 3-cone drill was 8.03. He also has no trouble dunking a basketball.’

4. A couple leftover notes from Kyle Walters’ session with the media after the draft that didn’t make this piece from earlier in the week. Walters spoke of taking ‘futures’ picks in the draft – of the club’s six selections three, Dobson, Patrice Rene and Shae Weekes are all heading back to school – and how that works with a likely condensed training camp with smaller numbers.

“Obviously with what’s going on there’s a high possibility training camp numbers will be restricted,” said Walters. “I think the ‘futures’ have a little bit more value this year with regards to if there is a firm number put on a training camp it’s not a bad thing to have some guys locked for next year.”

Both Dobson (Maine-Texas State) and Rene (North Carolina-Rutgers) are transferring this year while Weekes, who left the University of Manitoba for Bemidji State, will remain with the Beavers.

5. Walters, FYI, was asked if there was a comparable currently in the CFL to Redha Kramdi, the University of Montreal defender the Bombers took 16th overall. He referenced Ottawa RedBlacks safety Antoine Pruneau.

“That kid is very versatile,” said Walters of Kramdi. “At Montreal they played him where (Antoine Pruneau) played. He can cover man-to-man, he can drop into the deep third, he can blitz off the edge, he can fill on the run. He’s good.”

Kyle Borsa will hop from the green and white side of the Banjo Bowl rivalry to the Blue and Gold, after the Bombers took him in the fifth round on Tuesday (Photo: Piper Sports Photography)

6Good piece here by TSN/CTV’s Claire Hanna on the two University of Regina prospects drafted by the Bombers – linebacker Robbie Lowes and running back Kyle Borsa.

Borsa missed all of 2019 after a doping violation. Still, the Bombers were not only impressed with his skillset, but with his resilience and honesty in how he dealt with the setback.

“Honestly it was when we got the chance to speak to him (we found out) what a good young man he is and how much he’s overcome,” said Walters. “He’s going to be better for it and I think he deserves a shot in the CFL.”

Just FYI… keep visiting bluebombers.com over the next week or so as we profile each of the club’s five draft picks after Dobson.

7. The Bombers draft class featured two players on offence in Dobson and Borsa and four players on defence in Kramdi, Rene, Lowes and Weekes.

Walters spoke of being able to move Canadians around on defence depending on scheme. Defensive tackle Jake Thomas took a ton of snaps in 2019 and is the player we most often reference as the team’s defensive starter but so, too, did end Jonathan Kongbo, linebacker Jesse Briggs, and defensive backs Jeff Hecht and Derek Jones during the Grey Cup season.

Kongbo, Hecht and Jones have all moved on, as has Kerfalla Exumé, who signed with Montreal as a free agent to be closer to home.

“That’s always something we talk about — having ratio flexibility,” Walters said. “If you can find guys that can work as starters and give Mike (O’Shea) and his staff more options, that’s always a good thing. Having some DBs that can play and Jesse Briggs is a rotational guy and Mike is comfortable with him. We played (Canadians) along the D-line.

“Our defensive coaches do a really good job of packaging everything together. So, we’re less traditional in regards to where the Canadian starts on defence… you saw it in 2019 where we had one Canadian (starter) on defence, but it was a bunch of different guys out there, whether it was Derek Jones out there at the nickel, whether it was (Jonathan) Kongbo as an end, whether it was Jake (Thomas) as a tackle.

“It’s just providing our defensive coaches multiple (options) so they’re not really worried about where they’re pencilled in as a starter. It’s ‘Here’s some good football players. Take them and do with them what you like and put the best 12 on the field depending on down and distance, depending on everything and what opponents are doing.’”

8. FYI, here’s a look at the Bombers Canadian depth now after the draft (some positions may change; *indicates starter):

Offence:
RB:
 Andrew Harris*, Johnny Augustine, Brady Oliveira, Kyle Borsa
FB: Mike Miller
OL: Pat Neufeld*, Michael Couture*, Drew Desjarlais*, Geoff Gray, Tui Eli, Chris Kolankowski, Liam Dobson (Texas State in ’21)
Rec: Nic Demski*, Drew Wolitarsky*, Brendan O’Leary-Orange, Macho Bockru
Defence
DL: 
Jake Thomas*, Connor Griffiths, Nick Dheilly, Zach Houghron
LB: Jesse Briggs, Shayne Gauthier, Tanner Cadwallader, Robbie Lowe
DB: Nick Hallett, Noah Hallett, Redha Kramdi, Patrice Rene (Rutgers in ’21), Shae Weekes (Bemidji State in ’21).
Specialists:
K: Marc Liegghio
LS: Mike Benson

9. A few leftover NFL/CFL Draft notes… Here’s Walters when asked about the legwork they did before drafting Dobson on the possibility he could get an NFL look in 2022:

“You just have to do your due diligence and talk to your NFL people. The interesting thing for next year’s NFL Draft is with all the kids going back (to school in 2021) it’s going to be, by our accounts, the deepest NFL Draft ever just based on numbers.

“That’s going to hurt some fringe NFL guys next year. You don’t know how guys are going to progress over the year. It’s impossible to predict. Of course you try and get as much information as you can, but it’s impossible to predict where someone is going to be in a year from now and what NFL teams are going to pick in a year from now.”

Notre Dame QB Ian Book, who is on the Bombers negotiation list, was a fourth-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints last week.

Current Bombers RB prospect James Williams and DB candidate Clifton Duck were both part of a feature in The New York Times on underclassmen players who declare for the NFL Draft early, but then are not selected.

10. And, finally, a shoutout to colleague and ace video/social media guy Riley Mara – I call him ‘Young Scorcese’ – for his cleverness in putting together stuff like this over the last week…

First, his tease prior to the CFL Draft:

And then his look at our draft picks, Parks and Rec-style:

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