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HIGH ACHIEVERS WEEKEND WRAP: Defensive standouts Jesse Luketa, Luiji Vilain NFL bound

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

WEEKEND WRAP: The 2022 NFL Draft is over, so it’s time for a quick football question.

What does a Cowboy, a Ram, a Cardinal and a Viking have in common?

That diverse question could take a while to figure out so let’s save some time and jump right to the answer – there’s one current player on each of the respective NFL teams from Dallas, Los Angeles, Arizona and Minnesota with a connection to the National Capital Amateur Football Association.

Two years ago, defensive end Neville Gallimore (Canterbury Mustangs, Cumberland Panthers) was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 2020 by the Cowboys. In his first two seasons, which included significant time lost because of injury, he has had 41 tackles and two sacks.

A graduate of the Ivy League’s Brown University, defensive tackle Michael Hoecht was signed by the Rams, who emerged as the NFL’s Super Bowl champion in 2022. Hoecht, who played his bantam season a decade ago with the Bell Warriors and was the junior athlete of the year at South Carleton High School, was credited with one tackle in the Super Bowl game.

On the weekend, the spotlight fell on two talented Ottawa defensive players – linebacker/defensive end Jesse Luketa (Cumberland), who was drafted in the seventh round and 256th overall by the Arizona Cardinals, and Wake Forest University defensive end Luiji Vilain (Cumberland), who was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as a priority undrafted free agent.

Patiently waiting until the third day of the NFL Draft, a throng of supporters erupted in celebration when Luketa heard he was selected by the Cardinals.


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“Highly favoured… Let’s get to work AZ!,” Luketa posted on Twitter, when he found a calm moment to speak to the social media world. “It takes a Village, mine’s just a little bit bigger.”

During his four years at Penn State University, Luketa developed into a first-rate linebacker in his first three years and then showed his commitment to team and versatility by adding the role of defensive end to his resume this season.

In his final season as a Nittany Lion, the 6-3, 247-pound Luketa had 61 tackles in 13 games. He had 34 solo tackles for 8.5 lost yards and was credited with 27 assisted tackles. His stats sheet also showed five quarterback hurries, half a sack and a one-handed interception returned for a touchdown.

Luketa also played well at the Senior Bowl for graduating players and had two sacks. But during the NFL Combine, he suffered a hamstring injury running the 40-yard dash.

Two days after hearing his name called at the NFL Draft, he could be an early selection in the CFL Draft on Tuesday. He was ranked No. 2 in the final prospect list issued by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau, after being No. 1 on the winter list.

Penn State football head coach James Franklin was thrilled to see Luketa, “who absolutely loves the game of football,” offered an opportunity to play in the NFL.

“I am a huge fan of Jesse and am proud of all he has accomplished within our program,” Franklin said in a statement issued on Twitter. “His knowledge of the game, physical nature and ability to play multiple positions will allow Jesse to enjoy a successful NFL career for years to come.

“We were able to take advantage of Jesse’s versatility this past season, lining him up both at linebacker and defensive end, and his eagerness to embrace that role will prove valuable in any NFL locker room.”

Luketa, who stayed at home to celebrate his potential NFL Draft selection and even visited St. Patrick’s High School on Friday with Gallimore, graduated from Penn State with a degree in criminology.

Luketa and Gallimore had short stays at St. Patrick’s as they followed the prep school route to develop their football skills at Episcopal Academy in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and Canada Prep Academy in St. Catharines, ON., respectively.

After four years at the University of Michigan, where he only played 12 career games and had 11 tackles and one sack, Vilain transferred to Wake Forest University for his graduating senior year and made the pro scouts take notice.

As a Deacon, he had nine sacks for 56 yards, 10 tackles for another 58 yards and a total of 34 tackles.

The 6-4, 255-pound Vilain, who was selected in the 2021 CFL Draft by the Toronto Argonauts, tweeted he was ready to join the Vikings.

“Let’s Work,” he sounded on Twitter.

BRONZE FOR FUSION 18U BOYS AT VOLLEYBALL PROVINCIALS

Ontario bronze-medallist Ottawa Fusion 18U boys’ volleyball team. Photo: Ottawa Fusion/Facebook

The Ottawa Fusion 18-and-under boys’ volleyball team won the bronze medal in the top division of their April 29-May 1 Ontario Volleyball Championships in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The contest for third place was an absolute barnburner. Playing their sixth match in three days, the Fusion avenged an earlier pool play defeat to Unity Bounce – which went all the way to 24-22 in the deciding set – with their 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-12 triumph for bronze.

The Fusion also earned straight-set victories over teams from London and Kitchener-Waterloo (the eventual champions) in pool play. They then beat the Thundercats (York Region) in the quarter-finals by the minimum (15-13 in the fifth set) before falling to Pakmen (Mississauga) in a four-set semi-final.

Nathan Peters was named to the championship tournament all-star team.

The Ottawa Mavericks also qualified for the eight-team top tier at the 18U boys’ level, finishing eighth.

The Mavs 18U girls survived a five-set playoff match with Pakmen with a 16-14 final-set victory to reach the semi-finals before ultimately settling for fourth at their provincials, held concurrently at the same site. The Mavs 15U boys were fifth at their April 24-26 Ontario Championships in Mississauga.

OTTAWA BASKETBALL TEAMS SWEEP ONTARIO CUP MEDALS

Winning a medal at the Ontario Cup basketball championship is quite a feat, playing three or four games over two or three days. Having Ottawa teams capture two medals in the same divisions is remarkable.

But seeing Ottawa clubs standing on all three steps of the medal podium is unimaginable. Imagine no more. It happened Sunday at the Ontario Cup girls’ U14 division 7 tournament in Markham.

The undefeated West Ottawa Hornets scored the winning basket with seven seconds remaining for a 30-29 victory over the silver-medal winning Gloucester-Cumberland Basketball Association in the gold-medal final. The Ottawa Next Level Pampararo defeated YSSK (Waskey) 34-26 for the bronze medal.

In round-robin play, the Hornets defeated Lakeshore Lynx 69-16 and Gloucester-Cumberland 36-28, while Gloucester-Cumberland defeated the Lynx 73-14. Ottawa Next Level turned back YSSK 59-11 and Huntsville Hurricanes 52-15 in preliminary play.

Ottawa Shooting Stars averaged more than 44 points a game in the pool round, but lost their division 5 final 26-25 to Guelph Youth Basketball and earned the silver medal.

The Ontario Cup boys’ U14 tournament was staged in various gyms throughout Ottawa and Ottawa Next Level Neeley went undefeated to win the division 8 gold medal. Next Level turned back Stratford Revolution 41-31 in the final.

After going 2-1 in its division 2 preliminary games, Next Level qualified for the bronze-medal game and defeated Halton Burloak Rich 45-33.

JCC Maccabi Warriors defeated Nepean Blue Devils 61-53 in the division 4 bronze-medal game.

EMMA ACRES’ RINK UNDEFEATED IN CANADIAN U18 CURLING

RCMP Curling Club’s Emma Acres scored multiple points in five of her seven scoring ends to win her first two matches at the Canadian girls’ U18 curling championship in Oakville, ON.

By scoring three points in each of the third and fifth ends and increasing it to four in the seventh, Acres along with third and sister Ava Acres, second Liana Flanagan and lead Mya Sharpe defeated Prince Edward Island’s Ella Lenentine 10-3.

In her second game, Acres counted two apiece in the third and fifth ends en route to scoring a 6-4 win over Grace Beaudry’s Manitoba 2 rink.

SOLID FIFTH PLACE SHOWING FOR RUGBY SEVENS PLAYERS ON HOME SOIL

Ottawa Irish products Pam Buisa and Olivia De Couvreur helped Canada to a season-best fifth-place finish at their home stop of the World Rugby Sevens Series on April 30-May 1 in Langford, B.C.

Canada beat Spain 19-10 and Mexico 43-0 before falling 28-5 to Australia to conclude pool play. De Couvreur scored Canada’s lone try in the defeat to the eventual tournament champions.

Canada fell 38-0 to Olympic-champion New Zealand in the quarter-finals, but rebounded for wins over Fiji (26-19) and USA (12-7) to finish strongly.

The result meant a rise to seventh in the season’s overall standings for the Canadian women, who are in rebuild mode following last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where they placed ninth.

FORMER OTTAWA WEST HOCKEY PLAYER MISSES MEDALS WITH TEAM CANADA AT U18 WORLDS

Ottawa’s Kocha Delic and the Canadian under-18 men’s hockey team failed to reach this weekend’s medal round at their April 21-May 1 world championships in Germany.

Canada fell 6-5 to Finland in the quarter-finals after going 1-1-1 in pool play. Delic tied for second in team goal-scoring (behind Connor Bedard’s six) with his pair of tallies in Canada’s four games.

The Ottawa West product scored 17 goals and 29 assists to finish fourth in team scoring for the Sudbury Wolves in his first Ontario Hockey League season.

– with files from Dan Plouffe

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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