Riders’ GM Jeremy O’Day fell in love with second overall pick Nelson Lokombo at first sight

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Jeremy O’Day got the player he coveted with the second overall pick in the 2021 CFL Draft: defensive back Nelson Lokombo.

It was love at first sight for O’Day who recalled the first time he saw Lokombo play live was fittingly at Mosaic Stadium when the University of Saskatchewan Huskies played the University of Regina Rams.

The night of Friday, September 13, 2019, Lokombo made four tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack while breaking up one pass and intercepting two balls, one of which he returned 98 yards down the sideline for a touchdown in a 44-9 win for the rivals from up Highway 11.

“It does help to see him play live multiple times — Nelson is a special player. He can come in and be an impact player for us and have a long career in the CFL,” O’Day said on his post-draft videoconference.

“There’s projections that we’re doing here, but he’s a special talent. A playmaker, very instinctual football player, ability to play multiple positions, and a super high character guy — he was off the charts in his interview.”

That performance in front of O’Day helped Lokombo win the Presidents’ Trophy as the most outstanding defensive player in Canadian university football in 2019. In 10 games that season, Lokombo made 39 tackles, six tackles for loss, five interceptions — two returned for touchdowns — with four pass break-ups, three sacks, and one forced fumble.

“I got to talk to the coaching staff and they already know how they want to use me. I’ll be playing DB as a guy that can play everywhere, similar to what I was doing at Sask — playing corner, playing half, playing safety and playing SAM (strong-side linebacker),” Lokombo said in his post-draft videoconference.

“Football is a game that has a competitive nature. My ability to make plays on the field is going to translate to the next level. I’m excited to be able to stay and not be too far away from my alma mater. I know how huge football is out there.”

The 2020 U Sports schedule was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but being off the field didn’t hurt Lokombo’s draft stock. The Abbotsford, B.C., native started as a freshman for the Huskies in the ultra-competitive Canada West conference. He spent four years on the Saskatoon campus with three seasons playing football.

“Definitely these past four years have been an eye-opener for the culture change in how different the culture in B.C. is to the culture in Saskatchewan — the love of the game is huge there,” Lokombo said.

The 22-year-old held his pro day at the Saskatoon Minor Football Field in April. Lokombo measured in at just under five-foot-eleven and weighed 184 pounds. He ran the forty-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, the shuttle in 4.06 seconds, and the three-cone drill in 6.80 seconds.

He also recorded ten reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a 38-inch vertical, and a nine-foot, eleven-inch broad jump. These measurables match the spectacular athleticism Lokombo put on film throughout his post-secondary career.

“It’s always important for you to be close with the local schools. We certainly don’t overvalue guys because they’re local. If all things are equal, you certainly could argue that you want to take someone that at least knows the culture of Saskatchewan and has been in the province,” O’Day said.

Lokombo will quickly become ingrained in the Riders culture with the green and white envisioning him competing for a starting position. Saskatchewan has veteran Mike Edem penciled in at safety while exploring the potential to start a Canadian at field cornerback. Even though players are put on the depth chart at a certain position, defensive coordinator Jason Shivers wants versatility.

“He has the ability to cover, he has the ability to tackle, he has the ability to blitz, and Jason Shivers is excited to have him because he has a player who is able to play multiple positions,” O’Day said.

“He has the ability to play multiple positions and he’s physical enough where he could compete at SAM (strong-side linebacker) if we needed him. It’s hard to not get excited when you watch his film. He’s got an opportunity in front of him.”

Now it’s up to Lokombo to live up to the star potential in Saskatchewan at the pro level.

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