U of M football factory

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

They are the reigning Vanier Cup champions, so perhaps this shouldn't have come as a surprise.

Six more University of Manitoba Bison football players have rolled off the assembly line and into the CFL -- five draft picks and a free agent signing -- solidifying the school's reputation as the country's premier football school.

No other Canadian university had more than three players drafted yesterday, and if you look at the current decade, nobody can match the 25 Bisons chosen in the draft since 2000.

It's mind-boggling, really.

A team with probably the smallest budget and the worst facilities in Western Canada (I've seen nicer machine sheds than the Bisons clubhouse) just keeps churning them out. Yesterday it was three defensive linemen, a receiver and a defensive back.

Make that two db's, as Mike Howard has signed a free agent deal with the Montreal Alouettes.

And you could forgive head coach Brian Dobie if he felt a tad vindicated by it all.

Dobie took some heat during Vanier Cup week in Toronto for carrying some older players, Howard, who just turned 28, being one of them.

"Huge vindication," Dobie said yesterday. "So Mike Howard and Justin Shaw and Justin Cooper and those guys shouldn't have an opportunity to get a degree? And they shouldn't have an opportunity to pursue excellence? And they shouldn't have an opportunity to chase their dreams?

"I didn't know there was an age restriction on that."

Howard is a perfect example of Dobie's reclamation program.

This was a kid who planned to join the navy when Dobie recruited him from Victoria, five years ago. Junior football was over for him, and he wasn't sure he could handle the academic demands of university.

Today, he's got a degree in one hand, a signed contract in the other and a memory that'll last a lifetime on his finger -- he was to pick up his championship ring last night.

"How great is all that?" Dobie said. "Nothing wrong with joining the navy ... but he gave himself a chance. And then he made the most of his opportunity. This program nurtures that. We have a family feeling."

That's what drew D-lineman Justin Cooper here from Edmonton.

The Bisons' history of producing pros didn't hurt, either.

"You see a list of 15 players that are currently in the CFL, that kind of gets a young guy's eyes open," Cooper said.

By a strange twist of fate, Cooper, 25, and three teammates are leaving their Bison family to go home: Cooper, drafted by the Eskimos, returning to Alberta, B.C.'s Justin Shaw and Brady Browne, both 25, going to the Lions and 21-year-old Don Oramasionwu (Donnie-O to his buds) drafted by his hometown Blue Bombers.

The other Bison drafted, 26-year-old receiver Terry Firr of Windsor, is off to Montreal.

That's five more potential CFL names for Dobie's recruiting package.

"The reason I came out there was to win a national championship and go play CFL," Browne said. "Just look at their past, how many guys they pump into the CFL."

Like the rest, Browne certainly didn't choose the U of M for its facilities.

"It's nothing fancy here," he said. "It's just football. It's just a bunch of tough guys who haven't had it easy. We maybe didn't have the grades to go somewhere else, but we just tough it out. It's a football factory."

A factory that looks beat-up and run-down from the outside, which is fitting, since those working it aren't perfectly polished when they arrive, either. Sure, some are on their second chance in life, but what's wrong with that?

"The thing about this university, both football-wise and as a university mandate, it's about opportunity," Dobie said. "MacLean's knocks it, but boy, I'll tell you, these guys get an opportunity."

More than anywhere else, it turns out.

BUMPER BISON CROP

Six More Off to CFL

- DL Justin Shaw, drafted third round by B.C.

- DL Justin Cooper, drafted third round by Edmonton

- WR Terry Firr, drafted fourth round by Montreal

- DB Brady Browne, drafted fifth round by B.C.

- DL Don Oramasionwu, drafted fifth round by Winnipeg

- DB Mike Howard, signed as a free agent by Montreal


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