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Old and new dreams come true for Gaels in CFL draft

May 15, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

One man has harbored a dream of playing professional football for years.

The other came upon the notion much later in life, oddly enough while setting up props at Montreal Alouettes games last summer.

On Tuesday, both Queen’s Golden Gaels got their wish when they were selected in the annual Canadian Football League draft.

Derek Wiggan got his teenage dream fulfilled when the Calgary Stampeders called his name in the fourth round. Scott Macdonell, the one who caught the bug not that long ago, was chosen in the second round by the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks.

Wiggan said the professional seed was planted early in his football-playing days, when he first thought that he might be just a little bit better than the other boys. It germinated in his second year at Queen’s, when he was named a second-team conference all-star.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I had a good off-season leading into that season.’ I saw the fruits of my labour and I thought if I kept working hard, having good off-seasons translating into (good) seasons … I’m eventually going to get better and it’s going to translate to me reaching the pro level, which it has.

“Now I just have to keep going.”

Macdonell, a dependable receiver, to be sure, but one whose career-season numbers in 2013 (30 receptions; 440 yards) both ranked 19th in the conference, said he never considered playing professionally until last summer, when he worked as a roustabout setting up lights, A-frames and a giant inflatable helmet at Molson Stadium in Montreal.

“It was a tough job but it paid pretty well and it kept me out of trouble,” Macdonell said.

As he watched games from the sidelines, one day his trainer suggested he could play in the CFL.

“There were guys I competed against the year before who were getting drafted and being signed and playing at that level, so I thought, ‘Man, I played against this guy, I’ve beaten him on routes,’ or, ‘I think I’m good enough to be better than this guy, and he’s there, so why can’t I be there?’ — the attitude that most athletes have.

“After that, I thought, ‘You know what, this game doesn’t look anything as amazing as it used to … yeah, I think I can play here.’ It just kind of started from that.”

When the intercollegiate season ended, Macdonell pondered whether to cash his Commerce degree on a job, or play his fifth year at Queen’s and go to graduate school. Thoughts of the CFL lingered, however, so he approached Gaels offensive co-ordinator Ryan Sheahan, who was an assistant coach for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012.

Sheahan encouraged Macdonell to give it a shot, and the two met throughout the winter, “talking about the mental aspect, and making sure my training was on track.”

The process helped him to mature as a player, Macdonell said, and that manifested itself in confidence that led to what was, by all accounts, a tremendous showing at the league’s scouting combine in March. “It’s a big thing to recognize, hey, I am good enough to play at this level, I am good enough to be great, I am good enough to put up those numbers that newspapers are going to talk about on the weekends.”

Wiggan also believes his stock rose at the combine.

“I feel like I showed them I was probably more athletic than they thought I was,” Wiggan said. “I think that was a question. I’m not the tallest guy, I’m not the fastest guy, but I get there. Through hustle, I get there and make the plays on time.

“I showed them I’m physical, I can play at this level. It’s just a matter of comparing my numbers to the rest of the guys on the field, and I was comparable to (them). I probably did better than people thought I would do. I felt comfortable.”

More comfortable on the field, perhaps, than the two-time all-Canadian felt in the interview room. As it turned out the Calgary people who ultimately drafted him were the first ones Wiggan met.

“It’s kind of a blur,” he said with a trademark grin. “It was my first interview, so I can’t lie. I was pretty nervous. They had their whole staff in there. You watch these guys on TV and you’re in the power seat and they’re all watching me.

“I was a little nervous going in but it went really well. It was cool.”

Macdonell and Wiggan were at the home of Queen’s teammates Matt Webster (also drafted Tuesday, in the fifth round, by Saskatchewan) and Alex Carroll, where they watched the procedings on television until TSN cut to an episode of 30 in 30 (about John McEnroe, the tennis player). At that point they watched proceedings stream on the Internet.

It was easy to stay calm until the draft began at 7 p.m., Macdonell said. “After that, everything else was out the window until I got the call. Every time my phone lit up, I got mad at the person who was texting me because I was, like, ‘Man you’re not the guy I want to talk to right now.’

“I was kind of worried that I’d be in the bathroom, doing my thing, and I’d get the call and I’d be fumbling, but luckily I was just sitting on the couch, trying to stay as stress-free as possible (when a phone call came from the RedBlacks),” he said. “It’s kind of tough when the rounds go and your name hasn’t been called. I can only imagine how it was for the guys who went later, but it was cool nonetheless.”

Wiggan said he was expecting to be selected somewhere between the second and fourth rounds.

“Not a lot of time goes by, but it feels like a lot of time goes by,” he said, “because we’re all just kind of looking at our phones, watching the picks go by, looking at our phones, hoping it’s coming.

“I had already done everything I could do, so (by then) it was up to them. I was going to be happy with wherever I went. I’m looking forward to going out, competing and showing them what I can do.”

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One Comment
  1. John Mac permalink

    Alex Carroll will be asked to try out with a team at some point, of that i am certain, he is simply too talented not to be given a shot. Aprile & Lue accounted for there should be 6 Gaels from this squad in the CFL. Great read as always Claude.

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