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