Ottawa Redblacks take hometown O-lineman Alex Mateas first overall at CFL draft

Alex Mateas (centre) will compete for a spot at centre or guard (Neate Sager, Yahoo! Canada Sports)
Alex Mateas (centre) will compete for a spot at centre or guard (Neate Sager, Yahoo! Canada Sports)

Alex Mateas, who gravitated to the gridiron the very year that Ottawa's second pro football team folded, is coming home as the No. 1 overall choice of the Ottawa Redblacks.

The familial and familiarity factors fused into a determinant in the second-year Redblacks using the top choice in an offensive lineman-loaded CFL draft on the 6-foot-4, 309-pound centre/guard from the Connecticut Huskies. It means the 24-year-old Mateas will be playing in the same venue where he once played that other football. 

"My dad [Traian Mateas] is a big soccer coach in Ottawa — he pretty much lives on the soccer field," Mateas, who signed a three-year contract immediately after the draft, said whilst meeting media at TD Place on Tuesday. "So when the dome was up on the field in the winter , we'd be here all night, all weekend, pretty much live here and lived off Kettleman's Bagels [a nearby restaurant]. It's nice to be here, to play on home field, somewhere I'm comfortable. Different sport, but I love it.

"I'm home and I've got the opportunity to play football — so no complaints," Mateas added. "It's a honour to go first overall ... It's a position I need to uphold, but at the same time take with a grain of salt.

"Everyone said it was a great atmosphere," Mateas added, whose former UConn roommate John Delahunt played fullback for the Redblacks last season. "I've spent some time here with the GM, [Marcel Desjardins], the head coach [Rick Campbell] and I just can't wait to be part of this great organization.

Ottawa, which traded away the No. 1 pick in 2014 for centre John Gott, went for Mateas over Calgary Dinos teammates Sukh Chungh and Sean McEwen. The Dinos tandem were chosen Nos. 2 and 3 to Winnipeg and Toronto, marking the first time that offensive linemen accounted for the first three picks. The chance to draft a lineman who was familiar with the national capital region was irresistible; Desjardins said the Redblacks had a consensus on the pick by Monday.

"When we factored everything in — ability, intelligence, level of competition, all those factors and the fact it's a player who wanted to be here, wanted to be a Redblack, it was really a no-brainer," Desjardins said.

"It's big for him, it's big for his family," Desjardins noted. "Our decisions are based strictly on football but when it comes to being able to add that community feel to everything, it's a bonus. He's got a lot family here."

Desjardins demurred from committing to whether there the Redblacks will try to groom Mateas into a centre or guard. Gott is a former all-star at guard. Both returning regular guards, J'Micheal Deane and Nolan McMillian, have the ability to shuffle to tackle.

"I think Alex has the ability to start right away," Desjardins said. "Do we need him to start right away? That's to be determined."

How quickly Mateas is on the field full-time will depend on how quickly he adapts. The first preseason game is 27 days away.

"I'm going to get in contact with the coaches, the offensive linemen and spend as much as time I can in this gorgeous facility and just prepare and get ready for the season," said Mateas, who spent his first NCAA season at Penn State before transferring to UConn. "I just want to contribute in any way possible — if that's centre, if that's guard, if that's getting the defence ready for the game.

 

The graduate of the Ottawa Sooners junior team has proven to be a quick study. Mateas didn't become a football player until 2006 after his club basketball coach, Carleton University assistant men's hoops coach Rob Smart, suggested his big frame and quick feet were ideal for football. Mateas struggled at first, but after a few seasons, had enough film to make a scouting tape that he sent around to several NCAA schools. He was the last scholarship player to join Penn State's 2010 recruiting class.

Learning a new game, and one of its most technical positions, tested young Mateas' perseverance.

"It was quite a new experience, and it's so complex, the plays, learning those playbooks," related Lynn Mateas, Alex's beaming mother. "It was daunting for the first while — daunting. After you get some assistance and help from experienced players, they all help one another out, it's wonderful. Little by little it all starts make to sense. It was quite a new experience being in trenches. He had done judo several years before so he had some experience with close contact."

Mateas attended a rookie mini-camp with the New York Jets recently and had an invitation to attend one with the New Orleans Saints. But he's committed to the Redblacks. 

"The whole process, I've really enjoyed it," he said. "Not only the past four months, but college and the Ottawa Sooners.

"I'm just happy. I'm home and I'm ready to play some football."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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