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Elks go with experience, local connection with top CFL draft pick

The Edmonton Elks went with experience — and with someone who’s got local ties — with the top pick overall in Tuesday’s Canadian Football League draft.

Joel Dublanko, a native of Aberdeen, Wash., whose father is Canadian, was the first name called in the league’s annual prospects sweepstakes that are typically held a few weeks before training camps open (this year, rookies report May 8 before main camp opens May 12).

And while the linebacker’s father, Craig, was born in B.C., his dad’s parents met in Edmonton and attended a CFL game at old Clarke Stadium on their first date.

“I’ve got amazing ties here,” said Dublanko, 26, who was the leading tackler on a University of Cincinnati defence that in 2021 ranked fourth overall in the final national U.S. college football polls following a semifinal Cotton Bowl defeat against Alabama.

“(My family and I) would visit here in Canada growing up.”

For the Elks, Dublanko “checked all the boxes,” head coach and general manager Chris Jones told media following the draft.

“He’s a local guy, number one,” Jones said Tuesday night. “Number two, he’s high character, and that’s before all the football stuff. When we made the calls with all the teams he’s been involved with, they had nothing but good things to say about his character, his work habits, his ability to fit within the team.”

A big gathering of Dublankos — Joel’s grandfather Larry hails from nearby Thorsby originally — attended a draft party of sorts in the city to mark Joel’s selection by the Elks in the draft.

“We had a lot of Canadian family, Dublankos — some of them I didn’t even know — come to the draft party (Tuesday) night, and we’re all able to be together and celebrate,” Dublanko told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

“I’m really excited to connect with them and connect with my family here in the city.”

Dublanko comes to the Elks with professional experience on his football resume already.

Following his five-year U.S. college career at Cincinnati with the NCAA Bearcats, with whom he was a two-year starter, Dublanko spent 2022 in pro camps with the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. Last year, he suited up for the Philadelphia Stars of the reborn United States Football League.

In his final season as a Bearcat, the team captain recorded 113 tackles, five-and-a-half sacks and an interception. He was also named an All-American Athletic Conference all-star.

Dublanko says he’s heading into Elks training camp with the goal of earning a starting job.

“From there on, I’m here to win,” he said.

“I hate losing, I probably hate losing more than I like winning. For me, I’ve been blessed. We were really good at Cincinnati, and winning was a bit of the expectation and we didn’t really lose.”

Dublanko says he’d like to be a part of a movement that sees the Elks fortunes turn around following three seasons in a row of the team finishing last in the CFL’s West Division.

“We’re going to try to turn that around here,” he said.

“I think we’ve got a really good group of guys to turn things around and a great coaching staff this year.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Marek Tkach 

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