Johnson: Lumbala’s selection at fifth overall ends wild speculation on Dinos star’s stock
Running back was projected anywhere from mid-first round to a third-rounder, but the Montreal Alouettes made sure he didn’t slide
His stock, for whatever mysterious reason, seemed to have fallen further, faster, than Bre-X.
“You always want to look because you’re curious,” admitted Steven Lumbala. “You’re always interested in what other people are thinking, what they’re saying, about you. But at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter until the moment happens.
“I think the same goes for a lot of people playing football — If we’d listened to the naysayers the whole time, a lot of us wouldn’t be where we are today.
“I knew I had to keep doing what I was doing, work hard and it would pay off. And it did today. I had no idea where I was going. It’s an amazing pick. A great fit.”
As he walked into auxiliary room adjacent the U of C Dinos’ headquarters at McMahon Stadium an hour or so after being chosen fifth in the first round of the CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes, a collection of teammates, friends and staff watching proceedings on TSN broke into impromptu applause. “Lum-ba-la! Lum-ba-la!”
Monday turned into an extraordinary day for the school.
Defensive lineman Linden Gaydosh taken first by Hamilton? Expected.
Linebacker Mike Edem in the top three? Check.
But Steven Lumbala at No. 5? That announcement elicited a chorus of excited gasps.
No one seemed to have a hot clue as to where in the draft the Dinos’ punishing tailback would land. He had dropped from a high of fifth-ranked last fall to 13th by season’s close, despite 993 rushing yards and an 8.1 average through his fourth year. Pro teams seemed concerned with that 5-foot-11 frame, an apparent lack of lickety-split and assorted injury woes (high ankle sprain, hamstring pull).
Then after struggling through the CFL combine in Toronto, hampered by the hamstring, suddenly Steven Lumbala, monster menacing mortals at the CIS level, seemed to disappear from the radar altogether.
“Personally, I see Lumbala as a late second or early third round pick,” Kent Ridley of Ridley Scouting Services told the Vancouver Sun. “This year, for sure, the draft is heavy on heavy guys. The skill guys are lacking.”
Older brother Rolly harboured no such misgivings.
“He’s my little brother,” said the B.C. Lions’ fullback on Monday. “I babysat him, changed diapers, the whole thing, right? We had a tremendous relationship growing up. It’s been a long process. Having gone through it myself, I know exactly how he feels. I’m glad that a team believed in him, is taking a chance on him.
“I’m so proud.
“Those people in the newspapers . . . it is what it is. You can’t get caught up in it. When you do good, they’ll be praising you. When you do bad, they’ll be on you. It’s their job and you’ve got to respect that, but you just continue to believe in yourself. You never know what teams are thinking. There’s a lot of hearsay. Like I told him, ‘Not all eight teams have to like you. It only takes one.’ ”
That one turned out to be the Alouettes, although the Eskimos were poised to pounce if Lumbala was still hanging around at 10th call.
“I think the reason people had concerns was simply his speed,” reasoned Dinos’ coach Blake Nill. “His testing may not have been the best, but he has what everyone’s looking for: Game speed.
“It’s great to see him go in the first round because this is a young man who personifies what college athletics are all about. Elite athlete, elite skills. And smart. The first kid, I believe, I’ve ever coached that’s graduated in four years. And from the Haskayne School of Business? He’s already downtown in an oil career.
“He’s done a lot of right things.
“The thing about Steven, he’s a nasty football player. And rock solid physically. He’ll get the job done for you. Low maintenance and high performance. He’s gonna be one of those kids, right away they’ll be able to put him in every special teams situation. And that’s what you want.
“You don’t need a first-round pick running off to the NFL or coming back to university. You show your fan base that you’ve done the research and this guy can help right away, this year. And Steven will.”
Lumbala was at home surrounded by family and not over at the university when the news of his selection broke (“I just wanted to spend a special time with them. You only get to take part in the draft once in a lifetime, right?”). His cellphone was lying upside down and when it started to buzz, he flipped it over, caught a glimpse of the 514 area code, and within a few seconds was chatting with Als’ GM Jim Popp.
“He’s an outstanding running back,” praised Popp. “He’ll make the first man miss. He can get outside. The one thing he’s outstanding at is blocking. He fits in there and takes on the biggest guys and stops them in their tracks. It’s a power game out west. He’s there blocking Stefan Charles. He’s got the attributes to be one of those premier guys that can become a starter.
“He has that opportunity, now or in the future.”
And so Steven Lumbala, very much back on the radar, enters what is widely regarded as a golden era for Canadian-born running backs, at an enlightened time when creaky stereotypes are being put to the sword; when nationality seems less important than ability. And he gets the chance to play in the city he was born, alongside an evergreen legend.
“I was talking to my brother about that. I’m going to get to play with Anthony Calvillo. That’s amazing. Pretty special. I’m sure a lot of guys can say they’ve played against him but to play with him, learn from him, I’m looking forward to that. Very much.”
The stock may have been low in trading before Monday. But Jim Popp and the Als were canny enough to realize that with blue-chip stocks in the football talent market, too, you buy low, believe in your investment, and watch the dividends soar.
“Ultimately,” said Steven Lumbala. “I never doubted my ability as a football player and at the end of the day when it comes to playing, I was going to be the best guy on the field as a tailback.
“That’s what I take pride in. That’s what I’ve been training for.
“Not to be the best tester in the world but to try and be the best football player whenever I get a chance.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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