Only three players were chosen in the 2019 CFL Draft after the Blue Bombers plucked defensive back Kerfalla Exumé in the eighth and final round last month.
It’s becoming clear, however, the 25-year-old from the University of Montreal was no afterthought.
In his Week 1 pro debut during Winnipeg’s 33-23 victory over the B.C. Lions, Exumé registered a team-leading five special-teams tackles.
"I couldn’t really imagine (doing that). I knew I had to come out there and do my job... and it turned out that I had a few tackles and it felt great," Exumé said following Sunday’s practice at IG Field.
Winnipeg’s 70th-overall pick admitted to some nerves before the opener, but got some good advice from fellow special-teamer DJ Lalama, among others.
"I told some of the guys I was closer to I feel a little stress and they told me there’s nothing to be stressed about," Exumé said. "Do what you’ve gotta do in practice and that’s the thing. In practice, the guys give us looks, we actually compete against each other in practice. It made it easier when I came out in the game. I was used to having adversity, so I was able to bring it out on game day."
Winnipeg specifically targeted Exumé’s special-teams acumen in the draft and he credited Carabins special-teams coach Byron Archambault, a former CFLer, for helping him gain a foothold in the game.
A lifelong soccer player, Exumé tried football for the first time at 17 and loved it.
"Yeah, five special-teams tackles in his rookie debut is pretty special," Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. "You don’t want to limit a kid, but that’ll be tough to keep that up for the season, that’s for sure. He plays special teams with a very high level of understanding of what it takes and how to do it right. That’s where he’s going to carve his niche out. To start, obviously. And it was a great way to start."
Chandler Fenner made his return to the starting lineup in Week 1, occupying a corner slot in the Winnipeg defence after playing variously at linebacker, halfback and special teams in 2018.
There was some good and some not so good with the debut.
In the third quarter, Fenner tipped a pass to safety Jeff Hecht, who took an interception deep into B.C. territory and a subsequent major by Drew Wolitarsky.
Later in the quarter, Fenner was burned by B.C. wide receiver Lemar Durant, who hooked up with quarterback Mike Reilly for a 15-yard major in the corner of the end zone to give the Lions a 23-21 lead.
"It’s a double move, I had jumped, a slant (route) earlier, we got an interception off it and the (Lions) offensive co-ordinator, he came back and said, you jumped the last one, so we’re going to give him a double move this time. That’s just a lesson learned," Fenner said.
Fenner and his teammates quickly rebounded from the error. On the B.C. conversion attempt, Marcus Sayles blocked the kick and the ball was gobbled up by Brandon Alexander, who quickly flipped it to Fenner, who took it 80 yards for a Winnipeg two-pointer.
"Just an all-around great team play," Fenner said.
"Sayles blocked it, B.A. pitches it, I run it in. I just think that a lot of pieces had to be involved for that play to even happen to get those points. It’s good to take that touchdown from that double move and make it a four-point play instead of a six-point play."
Was he expecting the pitch?
"I was yelling his name," Fenner said.
"So it just worked out really well in that way. We live together, so he knew my voice. I guess he’s heard my annoying voice enough times that when he heard me yelling at him, he saw he could pitch it to me."
For the 28-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., product, the mistakes of Week 1 are a motivator as he prepares for Thursday’s Week 3 battle with Edmonton.
"I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so you want to do a good job," Fenner said.
"You always want to be a contributor to your team in the win column, so those things are definitely a point of emphasis for me going into next week, because Edmonton’s going to look at the film just like we looked at the film and those are things you have to fix, things you have to remedy."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Sunday, June 23, 2019 at 10:56 PM CDT: Edited