Golden Bears Il­nicki and Henry called in CFL draft

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - JA­SON HILLS hill­sy­jay@gmail.com Twit­ter: @hill­sy­jay

Ed Il­nicki and Ty­lor Henry’s names weren’t jump­ing all over team’s prospect lists lead­ing up to the 2017 Cana­dian Foot­ball League draft.

Nei­ther was con­sid­ered “sure thing ” prospects that knew they’d hear their name sooner or later on Sun­day evening. There were no guar­an­tees for ei­ther of the Univer­sity of Al­berta Golden Bears stand­outs.

But scouts saw some­thing spe­cial in the Bears top run­ning back and wide re­ceiver.

Il­nicki was taken in the sev­enth round (62nd over­all) by the de­fend­ing Grey Cup cham­pion Ot­tawa Red­blacks, while Henry was se­lected by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the eighth round (68th over­all).

“Be­ing a five-foot-10 guy from a small town like Cam­rose and part of a pro­gram that strug­gled over the years, you don’t know how the scouts see you, but you have to have faith in your abil­i­ties,” said Henry. “I wanted this not just for me, but for ev­ery­one who in­vested in me through all my strug­gles. It was a very proud mo­ment and an op­por­tu­nity I’m go­ing to fully em­brace.”

Both Il­nicki and Henry are late round draft picks. A ros­ter spot isn’t locked up come June and they will have to work their way on to their re­spec­tive ros­ters.

But they’re up for the chal­lenge. “You just need a shot and an op­por­tu­nity to prove your­self. It’s a clean slate. It doesn’t mat­ter what hap­pened at the univer­sity level.” said Il­nicki. “Your body of work gets you that chance, but you have to be ready to step up and show what you can do at the next level. That’s what peo­ple pay at­ten­tion to.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find two more in­te­gral pieces to the Golden Bears pro­gram over the last four years than Il­nicki and Henry.

Far too of­ten, ath­letes are eval­u­ated on wins and losses — but some­times it goes far beyond that.

Il­nicki and Henry are per­fect ex­am­ples. They didn’t en­joy a lot of win­ning suc­cess as Golden Bears over their ten­ure with the pro­gram, as the team pro­duced just a 6-26 record.

But they played a big part in chang­ing the cul­ture of the pro­gram un­der Bears head coach Chris Mor­ris.

They were the Bears un­ques­tion­able lead­ers and team­mates that could be counted on. Both were pure heart and soul guys who stepped on to the field and backed it up with their pro­duc­tion.

Il­nicki rushed for 2,577 yards and 17 touch­downs on 495 car­ries, while Henry is the Bears all-time re­cep­tions leader with 174 and sits sec­ond all-time with 2,357 yards and 13 touch­downs.

“I plan on com­ing in and sur­pris­ing peo­ple. I think some peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate me a lit­tle bit. Whether I’m play­ing spe­cial teams or re­turn­ing and get­ting lit­tle reps at re­ceiver I’m up to new chal­lenges and I’m go­ing to grow a lot and de­velop un­der that role,” said Henry.

Il­nicki had a blue-col­lar type at­ti­tude as a Golden Bear and he plans to bring that with him to Red­blacks train­ing camp.

“I’m head­ing into camp with a will­ing­ness to learn and take on ev­ery­thing that’s thrown at me. To be a suc­cess­ful Cana­dian player you have to di­gest a lot of in­for­ma­tion quickly and be ready when called upon,” said Il­nicki. “I may not be the big­gest guy on the field, but I will do ev­ery­thing I can to put my team in a good po­si­tion. I will do all the lit­tle things that don’t get a lot of at­ten­tion.”

When Mor­ris took over the pro­gram in 2013, he built around Il­nicki and Henry and they de­vel­oped into great foot­ball players that left an im­print on the pro­gram.

“We had to grow up in a hurry. I was 18 when I joined the pro­gram and most guys will red­shirt for a year or two to de­velop,” said Il­nicki. “I got to be on the field right away. Once I es­tab­lished I could play in the league, I knew I needed to be some­one that the coaches could de­pend on and help build a cul­ture where ev­ery­one was ac­count­able and con­tinue to grow the pro­gram in the right di­rec­tion.”

Both were part of Mor­ris’ first re­cruit­ing class, and they took on lead­er­ship roles right away.

There were bumps along the way, but it al­lowed them to ma­ture into the players they’ve be­come and they suc­ceeded both on and off the field.

GAVIN YOUNG

Al­berta Golden Bears run­ning back Ed Il­nicki was a sev­enth-round pick by the de­fend­ing Grey Cup cham­pion Ot­tawa Red­blacks in the CFL draft.

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