May 24th, 2024

First overall selection Dublanko set to make Edmonton his new football home

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on May 1, 2024.

Joel Dublanko is looking forward to calling Edmonton home after the Elks took the rugged linebacker first overall in the CFL draft Tuesday night. Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) tries to avoid a tackle by Dublanko (48) during first half preseason NFL football action in Seattle, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Caean Couto

Joel Dublanko is looking forward to calling Edmonton home.

The Edmonton Elks took the rugged linebacker first overall in the CFL draft Tuesday night. There was karma with the selection, as the American-born Dublanko was able to declare for the draft because his father is from Edmonton.

And the burly six-foot-three, 240-pound Dublanko still has plenty of family living in Alberta.

“Thankfully it’s another home for me in Edmonton (with) how much family I have here,” Dublanko said. “It (being drafted by Elks) is a little bit unbelievable.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity. I’m excited to get to work learning about the game and just running around and having fun. We’re going to fly around and make plays, that’s what I am excited about.”

In fact, Dublanko’s grandparents are native Albertans.

“(My grandparents) first date they ever had was at an Edmonton (CFL) game so this place is home for us,” Dublanko told the Elks’ website. “This has just been such a cool moment, just being able to have my grandma come up and you can tell this is a home for us.

“The last time I was here is when my great grandma passed away, but I have a lot of good memories, and family, and a lot of loved ones up here.”

Dublanko’s cousin, Curtis, also played four CFL seasons as a linebacker with Montreal (2011-13) and Edmonton (2014).

Joel Dublanko was the CFL draft’s most pro-ready prospect. Following a productive college career at Cincinnati, Dublanko spent time with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks before playing last season with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars.

And after a rather nomadic start to his pro career, Dublanko is anxious to call the CFL home. He’s the first Bearcat to go first overall in the draft.

“My pro career has just been up in the air at all times,” he said. “It’s exhausting at times so it’s really nice to have somewhere I can call home.

“I’m excited to get to work learning about the game and just running around and having fun. We’re going to fly around and make plays, that’s what I’m excited about.”

There will be a learning curve for Dublanko as the Aberdeen, Wash., native has grown up playing American football. Once Edmonton’s training camp opens, he’ll have to get acclimated to a different game that’s played on a longer, wider field with one less down but one more man and unlimited offensive motion.

And then there’s defensive linemen lining up a yard off the ball.

“That (waggle) is a little bit of an adjustment for the defensive side,” Dublanko said. “I think that’s probably one of the biggest things, for sure.

“I’m also interested to see how the yard off the ball kind of plays out. I don’t know if that’s an advantage or disadvantage for the defence. Probably a disadvantage but in some ways it could be an advantage with the pass rush. I’m excited for that and the bigger field, that’s going to be fun.”

There’s a blueprint to CFL success for Dublanko to follow. In 2016, American Alex Singleton was deemed eligible for the draft because one of his parents was Canadian following NFL stints with Seattle, New England and Minnesota in 2015.

Singleton went in the first round, sixth overall, to Calgary. Over three seasons in Canada, Singleton was a two-time league all-star (2017-18), its top defensive player (2017) and a Grey Cup champion (2018) before returning to the NFL.

Singleton has since excelled with both Philadelphia (2019-21) and Denver (2022-present). He led the NFL in tackles last season with 177.

Dublanko said his top priority remains helping Edmonton reverse its CFL fortunes. The Elks haven’t made the playoffs since 2019 and won a combined 11 regular-season games since then.

“I know we haven’t done a lot of winning here in the past couple of years,” Dublanko said. “But I think we’ve got a good shot to turn this thing around and that’s what I’m all about.

“All of the individual success will come after the team success, that stuff takes care of itself when you win. That’s what I’m here to do.”

Of the 74 players selected Tuesday night, 47 came from Canadian universities. Laval and UBC had the most draftees with seven each.

The 27 NCAA players came from 26 schools, with UConn being the only one with multiple selections (two).

And once again, offensive linemen were a top priority with 17 drafted. Defensive backs (14) and the defensive line (12) were second and third, respectively.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

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