Onyemata could become 12th CIS player drafted into NFL

David Onyemata football

Manitoba’s Onyemata could become 12th CIS player drafted into NFL

OTTAWA (CIS) – David Onyemata, a defensive lineman from the University of Manitoba, could become later this week the 12th player in CIS history to be selected in the National Football League draft.

A native of Lagos, Nigeria who had never played football before he moved to Canada five years ago, Onyemata is projected to go in the middle to later rounds of the draft, which kicks off Thursday night with the first round and resumes on Friday (rounds 2-3) and Saturday (rounds 4-7) at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

Should his name be called over the next three days, the six-foot-four, 300-pound senior would become the fourth CIS player to be drafted by an NFL team over the past eight years, joining offensive tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif of the McGill Redmen (2014, Kansas City, 6th round, 200th overall) as well as defensive ends Akiem Hicks of the Regina Rams (2012, New Orleans, 3rd round, 89th overall) and Vaughn Martin of the Western Mustangs (2009, San Diego, 4th round, 113th overall).

He would also become the first-ever member of the Bisons program selected by an NFL squad.

Onyemata enjoyed a dream season last fall in his fourth year with Manitoba. He was named a Canada West all-star for the second straight campaign, was recognized as an all-Canadian for the first time, and claimed the J.P. Metras Trophy as the top down lineman in CIS football. Despite being double-teamed on most plays, the 23-year-old was second in his conference and ninth in the country with five sacks in eight league games and also ranked second in Canada West in tackles for a loss (7.5) and 12th in overall tackles (38.5).

One of three CIS players invited to take part in the prestigious East-West Shrine Game in Florida last January, Onyemata impressed scouts from 17 NFL teams at his pro day workout in Winnipeg on March 14. He is also ranked No. 1 by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau heading into the league’s May 10 draft.

“I felt pretty good and I received some good feedback from teams,” said Onyemata after his pro day. “I wasn’t thinking numbers and I just wanted to do the best I could. I felt I did really good and was pumped throughout the day. It would be really great if I got picked and I’m happy to get the opportunity.”

“David’s growth, in a very short timeline, in the game of football has been phenomenal. He has incredible physical attributes that are so far above the curve, coupled with a willingness to learn and tremendous work ethic,” says Bisons head coach Brian Dobie. “David’s ceiling is huge and he is so big, which will translate into an NFL player ready to emerge and make an impact at that level.”

While he has been the most talked about CIS prospect leading up to the NFL draft, Onyemata is not the only Canadian university player attracting interest south of the border. A pair of University of Calgary products, offensive lineman Sean McEwen and defensive back Elie Bouka, could also be selected this week, although they are both considered long-shot picks. 

Calgary’s McEwen, Bouka also attracting NFL interest

McEwen, a six-foot-three, 297-pound Calgary native, played five seasons with the Dinos from 2011 to 2015 and was named a first-team all-Canadian centre each of the past two campaigns. Picked third overall by the Toronto Argonauts in last year’s CFL draft, the 22-year-old also competed in the Shrine Game in St. Petersburg last January.  

Bouka, a six-foot-one, 205-pounder from Laval, Que., missed the past CIS season due to a left Achilles injury but was voted a second-team all-Canadian in his third year with the Dinos, in 2014. Ranked 18th on the latest CFL Scouting Bureau list, the 23-year-old flew to Arizona earlier this month for a visit with the Cardinals. 

Below is a list of CIS players drafted into the NFL, as well as an all-time list of CIS graduates who played at least one official NFL game.


To date, the only member of the Bisons program to reach the NFL is defensive end Israel Idonije who, like Onyemata, was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Idonije, whose family moved to Brandon, Man., when he was four years old and who played for the Bisons from 2000 to 2002, originally signed as a free-agent with Cleveland in 2003 and went on to an outstanding decade-long NFL career with Chicago (2004-2012) and Detroit (2013). He played in Super Bowl XLI in 2007 and was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award following the 2010 season…

The University of Manitoba did produce another NFL player back in the 1940s, offensive tackle Les Lear, but the North Dakota native who grew up in Manitoba never played for the Bisons. Lear, who was the first Canadian-developed player to reach the NFL and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1974, suited up for Cleveland (1944-1945), the Los Angeles Rams (1946) and Detroit (1947).

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