By: Alexander Kenny

When the Canadian Football League (CFL) draft rolled around earlier this month, the work of four SFU Clan football players came to fruition as they were selected to take the next big step in their football careers.

The Calgary Stampeders selected SFU running back Ante Milanovic-Litre 28th overall and offensive lineman Felix Gacusana 43rd overall. Justin Herdman, an outside linebacker, landed 54th overall with the Toronto Argonauts and middle linebacker Jordan Herdman was chosen 60th overall by the BC Lions.

Only two Clan players were drafted to CFL teams last year, up from one the year prior. Head coach of the SFU team Kelly Bates noted that these recent successes re-affirm the strengths and abilities of both his players and SFU’s football program as a whole.

SFU is the only Canadian university that participates in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Though the SFU team did not win a single game last season, Bates touted the level of competition within the NCAA’s second division as beneficial to his players.

“[Competing in the NCAA] probably gives you the least amount of jump to the next level,” he explained. “[It] brings validation to the fact that we are playing in a very tough conference, in a very tough division.”

Milanovic-Litre, who is bound for Calgary, said that the whole experience is still sinking in for him, with the abundance of training and camps that led up to draft day.

Despite struggling with injury for the first time, Milanovic-Litre was selected in the fourth round, and Bates believes strongly that he will get a solid opportunity to prove himself at the Stampeders training camp.

“His contribution in his first year, if he is able to make the roster, will be as a special teams player, he knows that, and that’s where he’s going to have to build the foundation of what he’ll be as a professional football player,” Bates said.

When asked about his plans for the start of the new journey, Milanovic-Litre said he will be taking a day-by-day approach as he gets ready to join the Calgary Stampeders training camp. He said that he intends to handle each new opportunity as it comes to him and to not get ahead of himself.

He also believes that having fellow Clan teammate Felix Gacusana with him at the Stampeders camp should help with the transition.

The talent doesn’t end there for SFU’s draftees, as Bates also noted that Jordan and Justin Herdman are high quality football players and that they “have an extremely good work ethic both on and off the field, [and,] to me, the fact their foot is in the door is all they need, and anything they do or accomplish in football will not surprise me.”

“[They are] students of the game, they’re very coachable. They have instinctual habits that you can’t coach,” Bates explained. He also stated that Felix Gacusana is “very gifted,” especially noting his skill, athleticism, and football IQ.

Milanovic-Litre credits his time at SFU with allowing him to grow on and off the field. The experiences also extended to his handling of adversity during the time he spent injured. These are lessons that Milanovic-Litre hopes to put to good use, in the case that injury should reappear in his pro career.

The draft of the latest quartet of players brings the number of SFU footballers drafted to the CFL since 1985 to 97 in total.