LOCAL HEROES: Carleton, uOttawa players excited to make jump to CFL with Redblacks

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Zack Pelehos had a pretty good idea his name would be called in the early stages of last Tuesday’s CFL Draft; Keaton Bruggeling had a good feeling he’d be getting a call, too.

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There’s always, of course, the anxiety of the wait — wondering about the when. But plenty of off-season work by Pelehos, the rugged offensive lineman from the University of Ottawa and Bruggeling, the developing receiver from Carleton University, paid off big. The former cross-town rivals became teammates when they were snagged by the Ottawa Redblacks — with Pelehos drafted second overall and Bruggeling going 22nd (in the third round). They’ll wind up three days of rookie camp with the Redblacks Friday.

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While Bruggeling had an invite to the CFL Combine, Pelehos delivered a standout performance at the regional combine to get through to the national one. The next step — to the CFL — is a big one. But both players say they’re ready for the challenge.

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“I went into the regional with the mindset I had to put the numbers up from Day 1,” said Pelehos. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to get that national invite, so I had to make sure that when the coaches looked at the results, they saw my name right off the top. Once I got to the nationals, I just tried to re-do everything I did at regionals.

“I knew I had a fair chance to get drafted early, whether it be in the first or early second round. I listened to what people were saying about me—good and bad. Anyone who thinks I’m going to be a bust, I have to prove them wrong. And anybody who thinks I have a very high ceiling, I have to keep providing them right. I had met with Ottawa previously that week. I thought we had a great connection, but I didn’t know it was going to be a second overall kind of connection. It’s definitely nice to start my CFL career in Ottawa where I’ve been to university for the past four years. I honestly wouldn’t have had too much of a problem going anywhere that drafted me, but I’m very thankful to be in Ottawa.”

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Redblacks rookie camp begins Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa.  Zack Pelehos (right).
Redblacks rookie camp begins Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa. Zack Pelehos (right). Photo by Tony Caldwell /POSTMEDIA

It probably won’t hurt ticket sales at TD Place that the 22-year-old Pelehos grew up nearby — in Gananoque.

While he could take summer courses, then retain his U Sports eligibility and play another season for the Gee-Gees, Pelehos has set his sights on being a Redblack in 2022.

“Every single day I’m going to come out and give it my all,” he said. “There will be guys here who have played in the CFL, guys who have played in the NFL. I’m definitely looking forward to using my aggression on the field and showing what I’m made of.”

Bruggeling, who’s from St. Catharines, was a latecomer to football; he didn’t start playing until he was in Grade 11, joining the Niagara Spears. From there, it was full steam ahead. I have really found his jogging from him during the 2021 season with the Ravens. A big target at 6-foot-3, he had 17 receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He was terrific at the combine, rising on many draft boards. To say he’s excited about his landing spot he would be putting it mildly.

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“This is unreal, like 100% I couldn’t ask for a better spot,” he said. “I’m super comfortable, I’m sleeping in my own bed. God bless the Redblacks.”

A soccer goalie and a hockey player, he figured he’d give football a try.

Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp begins Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa.  Keaton Bruggeling during camp, Wednesday.
Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp begins Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa. Keaton Bruggeling during camp, Wednesday. Photo by Tony Caldwell /POSTMEDIA

“I fell in love with it right away,” said Bruggeling. “I love the team atmosphere and who doesn’t like running and catching footballs? I feel like I have the ability to do this really well.”

He got a bit of a head start when he was shown around by former Carleton teammate Mitch Raper, now a fullback with the Redblacks. This is only the beginning; there will be some catching up to do in that he’s still relatively inexperienced doing what he does on the field.

“It’s just reps for me,” said Bruggeling. “I just need to see it. I haven’t spent a lot of time starting as a receiver — I just have to work on things like ball tracking and reps and running a lot of routes.”

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It’s all pretty exciting for Bruggeling’s mom and dad — Sheryl and Gilbert, their biggest cheerleaders. There’s already been a long line of athletic success run through the family — with Keaton’s sisters Katelyn (a varsity coxswain at Clemson University, then coach at the University of Oklahoma and now head coach of rowing at Queen’s University) and Chelsea (a national cheerleading champion ) and brother Jonathan (semi-pro soccer).

“I heard a whistle halfway through practice and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was my dad, making the five-hour drive and sneaking in,” said Bruggeling with a laugh. “My parents are amazing.”

THE END AROUND: Everyone is hopeful collective bargaining agreement talks between the CFL and CFLPA go well enough that regular training camps begin Sunday … Friday’s rookie camp goes from 10:55 am-12:45 pm (fans are welcome to sit in the north-side stands and watch ) … The Redblacks announced Thursday they’ve signed American defensive lineman Weston Kramer (Indiana) … Redblacks defensive end Kene Onyeka was on hand for the Christie Lake Kids senior basketball program Thursday night.

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