'Riders catch Fantuz

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Andy Fantuz says there's nothing wrong with going No. 3 in the CFL's draft of Canadian players after months of speculation he would go first overall yesterday.

He feels there are many others who are green with envy after he was selected by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"It is a little bit disappointing, but I knew Edmonton (which had made a trade with Hamilton to get the first pick) was going to take a defensive player and I knew B.C. (drafting second) was, too," the former Western Mustang wide receiver said from his home in Chatham.

The Eskimos drafted Adam Braidwood of Delta, B.C., a defensive end from Washington State, first overall, while the Lions went with Jay Pottinger of Whitby, a linebacker with the McMaster Marauders, at No. 2.

"I'm just happy to be the first receiver to go," said Fantuz, the most prolific pass catcher in Canadian Interuniversity Sport history. "Also, I'm the first offensive player, so basically it's the same thing to me."

Mustangs defensive back Leron Mitchell was selected 10th overall, going to the Toronto Argonauts. Not bad for a guy who's played the sport only three years, after initially pursuing a track and field career as a long jumper at the University of Texas.

"I'm pumped about that right now," Mitchell said from his home in London.

"Coming out of high school (he graduated from South), the CFL was the furthest thing from my mind. My mindset was track and going down to the University of Texas."

He accepted the scholarship, but that soured after a year when the Longhorns cut back on track and he came back to London and enrolled at Western. After sitting out a year under the CIS transfer rule, he tried out for the Mustangs.

"I thought here was my chance to start something new."

Greg Mohns, the Argos' assistant GM and director of player personnel, spent a lot of time at Western going over game films.

"Leron is a great athlete with a huge upside to him," Mohns said. "His track background is a positive. He's an explosive athlete. And the fact he only started playing football three years and here he is today, getting drafted into the CFL, it's a tribute to his athletic ability.

"I think he understands to start off with he's going to be a backup and special teams contributor, but we spent a lot of time interviewing him and we got a really good feeling about him.

"He's a guy with athletic ability and size (six-foot, 200 pounds) and when you've got size and you can run as a defensive back in this league, it's huge. You don't find a lot of Canadian defensive backs in the CIS that have great speed. They have good speed for the CIS, but their speed doesn't cut it at our level."

Fantuz is six-foot-four and 220 pounds, an all-Canadian who won CIS rookie of the year in 2002, then capped his record-setting career with the Hec Crighton Trophy as top player in Canadian university ball.

He finished with the most receptions in CIS history (189), most touchdowns (41) and most yardage (4,123), and all done in four years.

The one negative is he lacks breakaway speed, but that didn't scare off Roughriders GM-head coach Danny Barrett, who phoned Fantuz Wednesday night to see if he would play in Regina.

"When the ball is close, I haven't seen him drop a pass on film and they had him at wide out," Barrett said. "That's the difference. I think we might look at him as a slot and with that run and start, if the ball is close, we feel he is going to make that catch.

"Receivers are guys who are notorious who can come out of the college ranks and make an impact in the CFL and I've been hearing his name since he was a first-year guy and to have an opportunity to add him to our mix out here means a lot to our organization."

Fantuz has heard the knocks on speed.

"There's lot of guys that are the same kind of speed as me," he said. "Jerry Rice (retired NFL all-star wide receiver) isn't a burner himself and he's the best ever. So it's hard to say, but I don't think it's going to make a difference at all. (Although) some people do."

CFL camps open in late May, but Fantuz is also waiting to see what happens in the NFL draft, April 29-30.

"From what I'm hearing, I'm either going to be a priority free agent or a late-round draft pick. I'm still going to fully explore my options in the NFL, but I'm happy with getting drafted by Saskatchewan, so either way I'm sure I'm going to have a good time next year."

Fantuz said at this point, "I'm better suited for the CFL game because that's what I've been playing all along, but I'm a guy that can adjust pretty easily, so either one I think I'll do fine."

Barrett isn't concerned about the possibility of losing Fantuz to the NFL. "If that happens for him, great. I'm a realist and if that opportunity comes up for a young man, good."


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