B.C. Lions call on Vernon standout in CFL draft

Canadian Football League club selects former VSS Panthers star Ben Hladik in third round of league draft

Ben Hladik (Morning Star - file photo)

Ben Hladik (Morning Star - file photo)

Home province kid. Watching the B.C. Lions growing up. Selected in Canadian Football League draft by the Lions. Soon to be playing for them.

Life for Ben Hladik in the spring of 2021 is pretty fine.

At approximately 6:25 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday, May 4, the Leos made Hladik their third-round selection with the 22nd pick overall in the CFL draft.

“It seems surreal, a dream come true,” said Hladik, 22, a linebacker with the UBC Thunderbirds, from his parents’ home Wednesday, May 5. “I’m from Vernon, I grew up watching the Lions and now I’m a member of the B.C. Lions. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Hladik was the fifth linebacker chosen in the draft. He had been ranked pre-draft as high as No. 2. One TSN writer had Hladik going to the Lions fourth overall in a mock draft.

Hladik’s stock rose after the CFL combine season, which puts draft prospects through a series of drills in front of team scouts and personnel. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Hladik, described by one CFL website as a “physical freak,” ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and lifted 225 pounds 29 times on the bench press.

He was a defensive captain for the Thunderbirds in 2018 and 2019 to go along with back-to-back Canada West All-Star and U SPORTS All-Canadian nods. Hladik finished second on the ‘Birds in 2019 with 48.5 tackles, the fourth-highest total in the Canada West. He added two sacks and an interception which he ran back 50 yards for a touchdown. Hladik was also named Canada West’s top defensive player in 2018.

Hladik, studying psychology, missed his senior year with the T-Birds in 2020 due to COVID. He led the Vernon Panthers to their first B.C. AA Subway Bowl high school football championship game in 2016, where they lost to the No. 1 ranked Seaquam Seahawks of Delta. Hladik became the first Vernon player to be named provincial AA MVP that season.

He watched the draft with his family.

“The wait (for his name to be called) felt forever,” laughed Hladik. “I can’t wait to get started and to play football again.”

Panthers head coach Sean Smith is elated for his former MVP.

“Not only because it’s a huge accomplishment, but because he’s worked so hard to get there,” said Smith. “So to see him rewarded for all that he’s sacrificed and worked for over the last seven-to-eight years of his football life is a great feeling. I’m so proud that he’s been able to maximize his talents to reach the highest level. Ben has definitely earned this opportunity to play professionally.”

Smith said Hladik will use being drafted in the third round as motivation for the other eight CFL teams making a mistake in taking a pass on him.

“I have no doubt that he’ll do whatever it takes to make the Lions roster and get on the field quickly,” said Smith.

UBC head coach Blake Nill called Hladik the “steal of the draft” for the Lions.

“Ben was the first kid who committed to us after the Vanier Cup win in 2015 and I thought we hit the jackpot right there,” said Nill on gothunderbirds.ca. “I looked at that kid and thought he’d be one of our best, and he’s never let us down. Ben has been (defensive coordinator Pat) Tracey’s go-to guy for four years. He’s been a leader as a young man, played every position we felt we needed an advantage at and he’s just a tremendous individual. He’s going to be a tremendous pro, he’s going to do everything they ask.”

Hladik’s UBC linebacker teammates Nick Cross and Elliot Graham were also picked Tuesday. Cross went in the first round, ninth overall, to the Hamilton Tiger Cats while Graham was selected by the Calgary Stampeders in the fourth round, 29th overall.

“I’m very, very happy for the players but I’m also proud of what it represents for our program,” said Nill who has now overseen 22 players drafted to the CFL in his six years with the T-Birds.

The Lions made five picks Tuesday.

In the first round, they took defensive end Daniel Joseph from North Carolina State and went with offensive lineman Alaric Johnson from Iowa in Round 2. The Lions didn’t have a fourth-round pick and finished the six-round draft by choosing defensive lineman Alfred Green from Wilfrid Laurier University in Round 5, and offensive lineman Tyler Packer from the University of Calgary in the final round.

“All the picks that we made are guys that have potential,” said Lions director of football operation Neil McEvoy on bclions.com. “In Ben, he’s another exciting athlete that’s going to come in and hopefully be with our football team for years to come.

“He’s a guy that will develop into a linebacker or defensive lineman and take some reps with the first-team group. You want guys who have the opportunity and athletic ability to complement what you currently have. He’s certainly a guy I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.”

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced on April 21 that the league would return to play in 2021 after cancelling 2020 due to COVID.

The league is planning a 14-game season starting on Aug. 5 (league normally starts in June) and the Grey Cup, usually held on the last Sunday in November, is scheduled for Dec. 12 in Hamilton. League plans are subject to the state of COVID-19 across the country.

READ MORE: Thunderbirds high on Hladik

READ MORE: Ben Hladik of Vernon named U -Sports All-Canadian



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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