TORONTO — Amen Obgongbemiga admits his high-school football coach was right after all.
When Ogbongbemiga was attending Notre Dame High School in Calgary, he said head coach Dale Diluzio routinely extolled the virtues of playing in the NCAA. That came to fruition Thursday as the six-foot-one, 235-pound Ogbongbemiga, now a star linebacker at Oklahoma State University, was ranked second on the CFL Scouting Bureau's first top-20 prospects list for next year's draft.
"My high school coach always told me about playing in the NCAA, that it kind of propels you further than anybody else," Ogbongbemiga said during a recent videconference. "I just kind of brushed it off, I tried not to pay much attention to it because in the end I still have to play all my year and do what I have to do.
"But it's an honour for me. I'm thankful for being in the position I'm in."
Ogbongbemiga has a team-high 22 tackles (12 solo) and 1.5 sacks for the No. 10 Cowboys (3-0) this season. Last year, he had 100 tackles and was named Oklahoma State University's top defensive player.
But Ogbongbemiga credits Diluzio and Notre Dame's program with instilling a solid work ethic into its players.
"He taught me how to be humble," Ogbongbemiga said. "We were a humble team, we did our talking on the field and I've kind of carried that on with me throughout my career.
"He always instilled hard work in us."
Ogbongbemiga is expected to garner plenty of NFL attention this season. And while he'd welcome a chance to play professionally in Canada, Ogbongbemiga says his top priority is to try to crack the NFL.
"Not to knock on the CFL or anything but if I can play at the highest level, why not shoot for that," he said. "That's always been a goal for me since Day 1 . . . I want to be at the highest level I can possibly be."
Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson claimed the top spot in the rankings. The six-foot-six, 315-pound native of Windsor, Ont., is entering his senior season with the Hawkeyes, who kick off their season Oct. 24 at Purdue.
Jackson started 10 of Iowa's 13 games last season at left tackle. He redshirted in 2016 but has started for the Hawkeyes since 2017.
Vancouver's Terrell Jana, a receiver at Virginia (1-1), is No. 3. The six-foot-one, 200-pound Jana has nine catches for 84 yards and a TD this season after registering 74 receptions for 886 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.
Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer of Brampton, Ont., holds down the No. 4 spot. The six-foot-two, 210-pound senior has 10 receptions for 156 yards and two TDs for the Volunteers (2-0).
At No. 5 is Ottawa's Liam Dobson, a six-foot-three, 340-pound senior offensive lineman at Maine. The Bears will not start their season until the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While being thankful for his spot, Dobson said he's by no means content with it.
"If you're a competitor, you always want the No. 1 spot," he said. "That's what I'm shooting for."
Dobson enjoyed a stellar '19 campaign, earning conference first-team honours and being voted as Maine's top offensive lineman. He was the school's highest-graded offensive lineman for every game and averaged 12 knockdowns per contest.
Dobson contributed immediately upon arriving at Maine in 2017, appearing in six contests (one start) as a freshman. He became a full-time starter in 2018.
The remainder of the top-10 includes, in order: New Mexico State offensive lineman Sage Doxtater (Welland, Ont.); North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (Toronto); North Carolina defensive back Patrice Rene (Ottawa); Maine linebacker Deshawn Stevens (Toronto); and West Virginia defensive back Alonzo Addae (Pickering, Ont.).
The first 10 prospects are all from NCAA programs, not a surprise given U Sports cancelled its 2020 season due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The top Canadian collegian was Montreal offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage, of Saint-Eustache, Que., at No. 11.
The other U Sports selections included Calgary Dinos offensive lineman Logan Bandy of Calgary (No. 12), Saskatchewan defensive back Nelson Lokombo of Abbotsford, B.C. (No. 14), British Columbia linebacker Ben Hladik of Vernon, B.C., (No. 16), Calgary linebacker Grant McDonald of Tsawwassen, B.C. (No. 19) and U.B.C. linebacker Nick Cross of Regina (No. 20).
Defensive back Deane Leonard, who helped Calgary win last year's Vanier Cup before transferring to Ole Miss, was ranked. No. 13.
"It's a good-looking group," said Montreal Alouettes GM Danny Maciocia. "I think there's a (group) of significant players who play along the line of scrimmage and I think those are the ones who're going to have a significant impact once they get their name called.
"Many of them are from south of the border but there are quality names playing in our respective institutions (in Canada) also."
Maciocia was bullish on Lestage — and with good reason. Maciocia served as the Montreal Carabins head coach from 2011-19 — winning a Vanier Cup in 2014 — before rejoining the Alouettes, where he began his CFL coaching career in 1996.
"He's tough, he's nasty, he plays with an edge and can probably play up and down the line of scrimmage," Maciocia said. "He's a leader, he's physically gifted and can really move in space."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press