It’s a heady time four years in the making for Steve Sumarah and the Carleton Ravens football program.
Seven Ravens were selected Sunday in the CFL draft, including receiver Nate Behar fifth overall by the Edmonton Eskimos. That left Carleton tied with the Montreal Carabins for the second-most players selected behind the Calgary Dinos (nine).
Not bad for a program in just its fifth season following reinstatement.
“Being in a group with Montreal and only second to Calgary, who’s been to the Vanier many times, I feel like we’ve started to take those strides to the next level,” said Sumarah, Carleton’s head coach. “We’ve had other players in our program who were very good players but for whatever reason weren’t drafted so I understand how hard this is.
“The biggest thing is these kids bought into what we were trying to sell, they believed in what we were doing. I’m very proud of the accomplishments of these young men.”
Also selected were defensive backs Tunde Adeleke (third round to Calgary) and Nate Hamlin (fourth round to B.C.), offensive linemen Zach Annen (fifth round to Montreal) and Kwabena Asare (sixth round to Edmonton), receiver Malcolm Carter â€” who played junior football last season â€” (sixth round to Montreal) and defensive lineman Emmanuel Adusei (seventh round to Saskatchewan).
It’s the first time since ’99 that Carleton players were drafted. More importantly, the seven are the first Ravens selected since football’s return in 2013 and Behar is the school’s first opening-round selection since ’95.
Carleton football has enjoyed a meteoric rise under Sumarah, who became head coach in January 2012.
After going 0-8 his first season, Sumarah posted a 4-4 record in 2014 before leading the Ravens to their first post-season berth since ’96 two years ago with a 5-3 mark. Carleton improved to 6-2 last year and reached the OUA semifinals for a second straight campaign.
Sumarah spent six years as the head coach at Saint Mary’s, compiling a 35-12 regular-season record. He guided the Huskies to four straight AUS titles (2007-2010) as well as a Uteck Bowl crown and Vanier Cup appearance in ’07.
Sumarah, Canadian university football’s top coach in ’09, was part of two Vanier Cup-winning Huskies teams (2001-02) as an assistant.
Sumarah said the five-foot-11, 204-pound Behar was deserving of his first-round selection. The London, Ont., native had 178 catches for 2,577 yards and 21 TDs in 30 career games.
“He came here wanting to be a first-round pick and it’s a testament to him that he succeeded,” Sumarah said. “We talked about him coming here and not just being a part of a program but leading a program and he’s been that and more.
“I can’t say enough about him as a leader, as a person, as a player. His career will be long and prosperous.”
While heaping lavish praise on all of his drafted players, Sumarah was especially proud of Annen, a six-foot-three, 302-pound converted defensive lineman.
“Zac came here as an aerospace engineer and defensive lineman and started there for two years,” Sumarah said. “We moved him over (to centre) and he trusted the process that we were going to put him in a better situation.
“I see him as somebody who’s going to go back to school and finish his degree but the question I kept getting was, ‘Does he love football?’ I mean, he grew up in a football family. His dad coached for many years and his brother played. He’s a football guy who just happens to be very smart.”
Sumarah now has seven big holes to fill on his 2017 roster.
“The reality where this all unfolds is you take the good with the bad,” Sumarah said. “For sure this is going to help us with recruiting because many people keep asking how many of our guys have been drafted and now we can say they have been.
“But the flipside is we have to replace these guys and that’s the testament of good football programs. Good programs have good depth, it’s kind of next man up scenario where now other guys have an opportunity to shine. We’re hoping, and to be honest, we’re going to find out if that’s the type of program we have.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press