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Seahawks pick Canuck

Rice Owls' TE Luke Willson lone Canadian taken in draft

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Baseball and the CFL are both going to have to wait for Luke Willson.

The Rice Owls tight end's sights are firmly on the NFL after the Seattle Seahawks selected the native of LaSalle, Ont., in the fifth round, 158th overall, of the league's annual draft. The six-foot-five, 251-pound Willson was the lone Canadian selected in the draft, which began Thursday night with the first round and continued Friday night with the second and third rounds.

The final four rounds were held Saturday.

And Willson, who was selected in the fifth round of last year's CFL draft by the Grey Cup-champion Argos, admitted he was getting more than a little antsy waiting to hear from an NFL club.

"I was getting pretty anxious watching it with my family," he said. "Honestly, I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders... It's a huge relief.

"I had got a phone call at pick No. 157 and when I answered the phone I saw a Seattle area code. I answered it and it was (GM John Schneider) and I actually gave the thumbs up and my family and friends erupted. To be honest, I actually didn't even watch my selection on TV because I already knew and, besides, I was shaking I was so excited."

After the draft, Regina Rams defensive tackle Stefan Charles signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans. Contract details were not immediately available, however, a source said Charles received a five-figure signing bonus.

Charles was among a number of Canadians who garnered NFL interest leading up to the draft but weren't selected. Defensive end Ben D'Aguilar and offensive lineman Matt Sewell of the McMaster Marauders and Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Andy Mulumba are eligible to sign with NFL clubs as free agents as well as next month's CFL draft.

Willson said being drafted was "very surreal," and added he was having a difficult time putting it into perspective Saturday.

"My mind is racing and racing and racing," he said with a chuckle. "I've got a million thoughts going through it, I can't really pinpoint one.

"I'm going to enjoy the day but (Sunday) morning I'll be getting ready. I know I can't be celebrating too long because I want to go make the team and go there and contribute."

Willson played first base for the Canadian national baseball team in 2008. He hit cleanup at the world junior championship event in Edmonton ahead of Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman who was the No. 3 batter for Canada.

Willson signed with the Blue Jays in 2011 and went to extended spring training with the club before his senior season at Rice.

The left-handed hitter had 33 catches with the Owls for a team-high 425 yards and three TDs in 2010. He began his final two seasons at Rice on the Mackey Award watch list as one of the NCAA's top tight ends to watch but injuries limited him to nine catches for 126 yards and two TDs in 2012.

However, Willson performed well during Rice's pro day, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds, a 38-inch vertical jump, broad jump of 10 feet two inches, short shuttle in 4.28 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.04 seconds. He also lifted 225 pounds 23 times in the bench press and all of those totals would have been among the top-10 in tights ends at the NFL combine.

Willson wasn't surprised to be selected by the Seahawks, who were among the teams he worked for prior to the draft. Willson said even though he'll be playing in the NFL, he doesn't plan on changing his approach to the game when he reports to mini-camp next month.

"I'm a prototypical tight end," he said. "I'll work hard, block, run and catch passes, nothing fancy.

"My attitude and approach to the game is hard-working, I respect the game and want to go there to compete."

However, Willson is certainly grateful to be joining a franchise that's on the rise.

"It's a huge blessing," he said. "It's a great organization, a great team that was a few seconds away from the NFC championship last year.

"It's a young team and I can't wait to be a part of it. I can't wait to get out there."

Seattle has traditionally done well in the fifth round, having previously taken All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman (2011) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (2010) there. Other notable fifth-round picks include special-teams standout Don Dufek (1976), guard Edwin Bailey (1981), Pro Bowl kick-returner Bobby Joe Edmonds (1986), kick-returner Charlie Rogers (1999), Pro Bowl special-teams player Alex Bannister (2001) and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (2002).

Willson becomes the second Canadian on Seattle's roster. He joins punter Jon Ryan, a 31-year-old Regina native and former Regina Ram star who began his pro career with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2004.

Willson must still sign a contract with Seattle and even as a fifth-round pick is looking at a decent payday. Running back Chris Rainey from Florida, selected in the fifth round, 159th overall last year by Pittsburgh, signed a four-year, $2.282-million deal that also featured a $182,000 signing bonus before being waived in January after being charged with one count of simple battery after an altercation with a woman over a cellphone.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2013 B6

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