Hamilton Tiger-Cats take tight end Jake Burt first overall in CFL draft

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He was the last player added to the '21 CFL draft but Jake Burt was the first one taken Tuesday night.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats opened the draft by taking the former Boston College tight end with the No. 1 pick. Burt was born in Regina but moved with his family to Boston, where he grew up.

Burt is the ninth Boston College player to be selected in the CFL draft but first to go first overall. And he signed a three-year deal with Hamilton on Tuesday.

"From the moment I became eligible a month ago, it's kind of been a downhill roller-coaster just going full speed," Burt said during a CFL videoconference. "Right now I'm so excited I'd get on a plane and go to Hamilton, I'm just so thankful to that whole organization.

"I'm going to prove them right and go do some big things there."

Hamilton won a club-record 15 regular-season games in 2019 and reached the Grey Cup game before losing to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Burt appeared in 36 career games at Boston College, registering 23 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns. After being bypassed in the 2020 NFL draft, Burt signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots and spent the season on the practice roster before becoming a free agent.

Burt’s situation is very similar to that of linebacker Alex Singleton. A native Californian who played collegiately at Montana State, Singleton spent time in 2015 with Seattle, New England and Minnesota before being deemed eligible for the ‘16 CFL draft because his mother was Canadian.

Singleton was taken sixth overall Calgary and quickly blossomed into a CFL star. He was twice a league all-star and in ‘17 was its top defensive player before helping the Stampeders win the 2018 Grey Cup.

Singleton joined the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and re-signed with the club in March.

CFL teams no longer use tight ends but Burt said he's quick enough (4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash) to play receiver but can also line up as an H-back. And as a former high school quarterback, Burt certainly gives Tommy Condell, Hamilton's imaginative offensive co-ordinator, more interesting options.

The last time a tight end went first overall was 1989 when the Ottawa Rough Riders selected Gerald Wilcox from Weber State.

"I'm just extremely grateful to have any sort of opportunity to keep playing football," Burt said. "The No. 1 overall pick, I'm just blessed and lucky enough to be able to get that.

"At the end of the day I've got to show up and earn my job at camp and that's what I'm going to do."

The Saskatchewan Roughriders didn't look far at No. 2, taking Saskatchewan Huskies defensive back Nelson Lokombo. The five-foot-11, 184-pound Abbotsford, B.C., native was Canadian university football's top defensive player in 2019 and his older brother, Boseko, plays for the B.C. Lions.

"I was definitely surprised," Lokombo said. "I know my meeting with them prior to the draft went well, I just wasn't sure if they were going to pick me, to be honest, but I'm glad they did and I'm excited to get going."

Lokombo becomes the highest Huskies player drafted since offensive lineman Ben Heenan went first overall to Saskatchewan in 2012. And Lokombo expects to be utilized many different ways by the Riders.

"They'll be using me as a guy who can play everywhere," he said. "Something similar to what I was doing (in university) playing corner, playing safety, playing Sam, playing half."

The Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers looked to the future at No. 3, taking Texas State offensive lineman Liam Dobson. The six-foot-three, 340-pound Ottawa native recently transferred from Maine and will be playing at his new school this fall.

Dobson was clear to teams his intention was to play at Texas State this fall to enhance his NFL draft stock. That's what made being selected third overall surprising to him.

"I've made the commitment here to Texas State . . . I'm going to honour that commitment and play my season here and see what my future holds," Dobson said. "But the future for me definitely involves Winnipeg being a draft pick for them.

"I'm just excited that I've got the opportunity to keep playing the game I love at a very high level."

B.C. did the same at No. 4, taking Daniel Joseph of Brampton, Ont., a six-foot-three, 250-pound defensive lineman at North Carolina State. A former player at Penn State, Joseph will also be returning to school in the fall but that didn't stop the Lions from taking an NCAA defensive player with their first pick for a third straight year.

With the fifth selection, the Edmonton Football Team took Alberta defensive lineman Cole Nelson. It was a somewhat surprising selection given the six-foot-six, 312-pound Nelson managed 11 tackles in six games in 2019.

With the sixth overall selection, the Ottawa Redblacks took Maine linebacker Deshawn Stevens, the first time in team history it picked a linebacker in the opening round. The six-foot-two, 255-pound Toronto native is currently in the NCAA transfer portal but has said he'd play in the CFL if he didn't get an offer from another school rather than return to Maine.

The Toronto Argonauts took Calgary offensive lineman Peter Nicastro at No. 7, the fourth straight year they've picked an offensive lineman in the first round. The six-foot-one, 306-pound Calgary native helped the Dinos win a Vanier Cup in 2019.

The Calgary Stampeders went back to the future by selecting Calgary native Amen Ogbongbemiga, a linebacker at Oklahoma State University. An outstanding collegian, the six-foot-one, 235-pound Ogbongbemiga is currently under contract with the NFL's L.A Chargers.

Hamilton concluded the opening round at No. 9 by taking Nick Cross, a linebacker at the University of British Columbia. The five-foot-11, 203-pound Regina native was a 2019 first-team All-Canadian but is expected to play safety in the CFL.

The Montreal Alouettes opened the second round with their first selection, taking Montreal Carabins offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage. The move wasn't surprising, given GM Danny Maciocia coached Lestage at Montreal but the burly lineman is currently under contract with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

Virginia receiver Terrell Jana, a player touted as a potential first overall selection, went in the second round, No. 17 overall, to Saskatchewan. The six-foot, 190-pound Vancouver native, regarded as the most pro-ready draft prospect, had 123 career catches for 1,481 yards and five TDs with the Cavaliers and was a team captain.

Fifty-four players were selected over six rounds, including Shepherd University running back Deonte Glover (third round, No. 39 overall to Edmonton). Glover was born in Maryland but was a late draft addition because his mother was Canadian and he spent five years in Canada before relocating to West Virginia.

The five-foot-nine 216-pound Glover was originally a walk-on at West Virginia but transferred to Shepherd. In 2018, he ran for 1,349 yards and 19 TDs while registering 34 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 11 kickoff returns for a TD.

Regina Rams running back Kyle Borsa went in the fifth round, No. 39 overall, to Winnipeg. The six-foot, 200-pound Regina native hasn't played football since 2018 when he ran for 613 yards on 96 carries (6.4-yard average) and six TDs before registering a positive drug test in 2019.

He didn't play in 2019 as well as 2020 when U Sports cancelled the football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over two years at Regina, Borsa accumulated 2,195 combined yards.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press