2023 CFL Draft profiles: CFL teams bullish on Fresno State OL Dontae Bull

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/John McCoy

“Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog” has been the unofficial slogan of Fresno State athletics for decades but Canadian offensive lineman Dontae Bull takes it even one step further.

The six-foot-six, 305-pound blocker attended Belmont Secondary School in his hometown of Victoria, B.C., whose athletic teams are called the Bulldogs. He was moved from quarterback and tight end to the offensive line when he joined the varsity team, though he also spent time playing along the defensive line.

Bull didn’t arrive on campus with the goal of garnering an NCAA Division I football scholarship but between the growth of his frame and his skills, it quickly became apparent that he could garner serious interest from south of the border.

“A lightbulb went off about junior year for a lot of people and myself that I really had an opportunity to make it down south and play Division I football, which none of us really thought was a possibility until that year,” Bull told 3DownNation.

“It was a long process. There was a great group of people there at Belmont and in B.C. in general that made it possible for me to make it down south and I really appreciate them.”

Bull credits his high school head coach, Alexis Sanschagrin, as well as TSN reporter Farhan Lalji, who was then the head coach at B.C.’s New Westminster Secondary School, for helping distribute his film to NCAA Division I programs.

One thing that helped Bull on the field was taking up another sport in the winter as he joined Belmont’s basketball team in grade 11. Though he was initially viewed as a big body who could merely help collect rebounds, he soon showed that he had the potential to become a well-rounded contributor on the court.

“My head coach realized that I had some athletic ability and that I could be really dominant. Me and him just worked and worked over the summer, putting myself in a position to learn new moves and understand the offence. I was a dominant force in B.C. that year and there was very few guys that could guard me or gave me trouble,” said Bull.

“It definitely made me more athletic. My fast-twitch muscle fibres were definitely benefitting from that, just being more explosive, running up and down the court, getting up off the floor to get a rebound. It helped me cut weight, brought my body fat percentage down. I think it was just an overall good experience for me.”

Bull redshirted his first year at Fresno State in 2017 but played seven contests the following season, starting one at right tackle. He became the club’s full-time starter at left tackle as a redshirt sophomore in 2018 and finished his college career with 33 starts over 41 games.

One of Bull’s toughest matchups came in 2021 when Fresno State played against Oregon and star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. The six-foot-five, 250-pound defender was the fifth overall selection in last year’s NFL draft and made 49 total tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks, five knockdowns, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries as a rookie with the New York Giants.

“It was something that me and my coaches were excited about for a long time because that was a game for me that was going to be a staple and show people that I was deserving of making it to the NFL, hopefully. I think we were shortchanged a little bit by him getting hurt early in that second quarter,” said Bull.

“I think our matchups were overall good. There was one slip-up between me and the guard on a slide protection and there was just a miscommunication between the two of us. I took too deep of a set and he didn’t have his eyes on his gap and it was a mistake on both of our parts. But other than that, I don’t think Thibodeaux gave me much trouble off the edge.”

Bull’s transition to the professional level has been hampered by a broken leg he suffered partway through last season against San Diego State. He underwent surgery and missed the final six games of the season, which ended in the Bulldogs winning the Mountain West Conference and the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl. It was an agonizing end to an otherwise promising college career.

“It definitely was heartbreaking, not even because I went through a pretty gruesome injury, it was more the fact that I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to finish my season with my closest friends,” said Bull.

The behemoth blocker has worked hard to rehabilitate his leg and took part in Fresno State’s pro day on March 30, which was exactly five months after he underwent surgery. He performed 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a 25.5-inch vertical jump, and an eight-foot, three-inch broad jump.

Though his leg still isn’t fully healed, Bull is proud of how far it’s come in a relatively short amount of time.

“I’m much farther along than most guys would be,” he said. “We were proud of where I got to especially because a lot of people might not have made it to the point where I was at. A lot of guys might have just done the bench and called it a day but I wanted to show teams that I’m further along than they expected and I’ll be ready to roll when my opportunity comes.”

Bull’s rehabilitation prevented him from participating in any prospect all-star games, which limited his contact with NFL scouts. He knows that he can still try to make it in the NFL even after spending time in the CFL, similar to how Jonathan Kongbo was able to transition from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the Denver Broncos after coming out of college with a torn ACL.

The only two CFL teams present at Bull’s pro day were the Ottawa Redblacks and Edmonton Elks, which speaks volumes about his draft stock north of the border. The clubs hold the top two selections in the CFL Draft on May 2, respectively, which could be an indication of how highly those teams view his draft stock.

Edmonton’s representative was assistant general manager Geroy Simon, whose camps Bull grew up attending in B.C.

His NFL aspirations aside, Bull would be honoured to be a top selection north of the border and return to his home country to play professional football if he indeed is one of the draft’s top picks.

“I’m very excited for that opportunity, of course,” said Bull. “That’s still a great accomplishment for a small town kid coming out and being the first or second overall draft pick in the CFL, so I’m really excited.”

The only downside is that his new professional team won’t be called the Bulldogs.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.