February 1, 2016

A second look at first picks

David Moll

By staff

When Shomari Williams makes his Calgary debut, he will become the 17th first overall Canadian Football League draft pick to suit up for the Stampeders.

Williams, who signed with the Red and White as a free agent on Tuesday, joins offensive lineman Pierre Lavertu as No. 1 picks on the current Calgary roster. Williams was drafted first overall by Saskatchewan in 2010 while Lavertu was the first name called in last year’s draft after the Stamps acquired the pick in a deal with the Ottawa RedBlacks.

Lavertu is one of nine players who was drafted first overall by the Stamps while the other eight wound up in Calgary after being selected by other clubs.

If the list of top picks tells us anything, it’s that the draft is hardly an exact science. The group includes both all-stars and players who are barely remembered, if at all.

It’s worth noting that prior to 1985, the best players were often unavailable in the draft because of so-called territorial-exemption rules allowing teams to protect local prospects.

Here’s a look at the Stamps’ No. 1 picks over the years starting with the nine players originally drafted by Calgary.

Wayne Holm (1970): The Stamps selected Holm, a quarterback out of Simon Fraser, with the first overall pick they had acquired from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Holm dressed for all 16 games but with Jerry Keeling firmly entrenched as the No. 1 QB, the rookie mostly watched from the sidelines. He did attempt one pass, which was incomplete, and carried the ball once for six yards.

Holm changed both teams and positions in 1971 as he joined the BC Lions, who converted him to defence. He had three interceptions in two seasons with the Leos before going to Toronto in 1973.

A knee injury ended his football career but he went on to enjoy great success in the business world and in 2010 he was inducted into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame.

Frank Kosec (1981): It would be another 11 seasons before the Stamps had the opportunity to draft first overall and in 1981 they took Kosec, a linebacker out of the University of Waterloo.

Kosec played all 16 games during his rookie season and recorded a sack and two fumble recoveries. Following the 1981 season, Kosec was traded to the Montreal Concordes — remember them? — along with quarterback Ken Johnson and running back John Palazeti in exchange for quarterback Gerry Dattilio.

Kosec played four seasons in Montreal.

Jerry Dobrovolny (1983): Two years after taking Kosec first overall, the Stamps again found themselves with the top pick and chose Dobrovolny. The offensive lineman out of UBC played 25 games over two seasons with the Stamps before moving to Montreal for two years and Ottawa for one.

He later entered politics, serving on the city council of his hometown of New Westminster for nine years.

Kent Warnock (1986): The Stamps’ first first overall pick of the open draft era — i.e. after territorial exemptions had been abolished — was a dandy. And they didn’t have very far to go to find the gem as Warnock had been a standout for the University of Calgary Dinos.

The defensive lineman played six seasons for the Stamps, earning West Division and CFL all-star honours in 1990 and picking up a Grey Cup ring in 1992. Warnock had a team-leading 16 sacks in 1989 and tied Will Johnson for top spot in 1990 with 14 sacks.

Warnock finished his career with two seasons in BC.

Bruce Covernton (1992): The Stamps made good on their 1992 No. 1 selection as they snagged an offensive lineman out of Weber State who would be known to teammates and fans as “Tuna.”

His career was limited to five seasons because of injuries, but Covernton made the most of that time as he was voted the West’s top rookie in 1992 and top offensive lineman in 1993. He twice earned division all-star honours and was all-CFL in 1993. Covernton was part of Grey Cup championship teams in 1992 and 1998, although he saw no action during the latter season because of chronic shoulder issues that forced him to retire.

Steve Morley (2003): The offensive lineman out of Saint Mary’s has enjoyed a long professional career — he’s still active with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — but spent a single season in Calgary.

After dressing for 11 games as a rookie in 2003, he went to the NFL for three years and signed with Toronto as a free agent in 2007. Morley was with Saskatchewan in 2008 before joining the Bombers the following season. He surpassed the 100-game plateau in career CFL games during the 2013 season.

Miguel Robede (2005): The Laval defensive lineman’s development was slowed by injuries early in his career but things came together for him in 2008, his third season with the Red and White.

Robede had career highs with 19 tackles, five sacks and one fumble recovery as he helped the Stamps win the Grey Cup.

In 2011, Robede was traded along with receiver P.K. Sam for receiver Reggie McNeal and defensive lineman Adrian Davis. Only Davis, who played seven games for the Stamps in 2011, wound up seeing game action for his new team. Robede was released in training camp by the Argos and never resurfaced.

Pierre Lavertu (2014): Like Robede, Lavertu was drafted out of the Universite de Laval. He dressed for 17 games — including three starts — during his rookie season including the Western Final and the Grey Cup. With Brett Jones, the starting centre for the 2014 Stamps, trying his luck in the NFL, Lavertu has an opportunity to claim a full-time starting gig this coming season.

When it comes to No. 1 picks by other teams who wound up in Calgary, it’s a diverse group.

On one hand there’s Kevin Powell, the Utah State offensive lineman who was chosen first overall by Toronto in 1979 and played for the Argos, Rough Riders, Eskimos and Lions before playing a single season for Calgary in 1990.

Then there’s Mike Kirkley, a fullback from Western Ontario who played 11 games for the Stamps in 1982, the very same year he had been taken first overall by Toronto.

Perhaps the prominent borrowed top pick to play for the Stamps was offensive lineman Alexandre Gauthier, who started for two seasons after signing as a free agent in 2005.

There’s also Don Blair, the former Dinos star who was drafted first overall by Edmonton in 1996 and finished his career with two seasons for Calgary in 2002 and 2003. Blair had 92 catches and eight touchdowns during his two seasons with the Stamps and is also the answer to the trivia question: “Who was the Stamps player who wore No. 82 immediately prior to Nik Lewis?”

2014 Pierre Lavertu Calgary Stampeders 2014-Present
2010 Shomari Williams Saskatchewan Roughriders Signed Mar. 10, 2015
2007 Chris Bauman Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2012
2005 Miguel Robede Calgary Stampeders 2006-10
2003 Steve Morley Calgary Stampeders 2003
2002 Alexandre Gauthier Ottawa Renegades 2005-06
1996 Don Blair Edmonton Eskimos 2002-03
1992 Bruce Covernton Calgary Stampeders 1992-96
1989 Gerald Wilcox Ottawa Rough Riders 1997
1986 Kent Warnock Calgary Stampeders 1987-92
1984 Frank Balkovec BC Lions 1988-89
1983 Jerry Dobrovolny Calgary Stampeders 1983-84
1982 Mike Kirkley Toronto Argonauts 1982
1981 Frank Kosec Calgary Stampeders 1981
1979 Kevin Powell Toronto Argonauts 1990
1978 Dave Kirzinger Calgary Stampeders 1978-86
1970 Wayne Holm Calgary Stampeders 1970