2024 CFL Draft profiles: UBC TE/LS Brad Hladik happy living outside his brother’s ‘spotlight’

Photo: Rich Lam/UBC Athletics

There are plenty of recognizable surnames for fans to cling to in the 2024 CFL Draft class, representing the relatives of players past and present. However, none is as easy to place as that of a certain UBC tight end.

In 2023, B.C. Lions’ linebacker Ben Hladik established himself as one of the league’s brightest Canadian stars, becoming just the fourth homegrown player to ever record 100 tackles in a season. Now, his brother Brad is set to join him in the pros, albeit playing a markedly different role.

“It was huge for me to see how it gets done and see how he just elevated the game for himself. He just kept getting better and better as he went and now he just continues to get better and better,” the proud younger Hladik said of his brother in an interview with 3DownNation last month.

“I see his work ethic and that’s all you really need to do is be the hardest worker in the room. It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do.”

When it comes to sporting siblings, the Hladiks are something of an oddity. Not only do the pair play opposing positions, but they’ve done so to dramatically different levels of public attention.

Ben was a true blue-chip recruit coming out of Vernon Secondary School, making an instant impact as a first-year player for the Thunderbirds. His university career included two U Sports All-Canadian selections and a Canada West Defensive Player of the Year award. When he was selected in the third round of the 2021 Draft, it was seen as a fall down draft boards and he punished doubters by seizing a starting job in just his second year. Looking back, you could argue he should have gone first overall.

Brad took home his share of medals back in high school but was comparatively lightly recruited for the next level. It took a year of play with the CJFL’s Okanagan Sun before UBC elected to capitalize on the family connection and bring him in, but stardom was never in the cards. Instead, he’s laboured as a package player and wasn’t even the team’s top tight end as a senior, getting time behind All-Canadian and Calgary Stampeders’ draft pick Lucas Robertson.

That might be enough to spark a jealous fistfight in most sibling rivalries, but Brad has never seen it that way. Success for one brother uplifts the whole family and he’s content to keep playing his role in that equation.

“He can take the spotlight, I’ll just keep grinding in the corner. I don’t mind it at all,” Brad smiled. “If having him as my brother gives me a shot, I’ll take whatever I can and hopefully just make the most out of it.”

The younger Hladik hasn’t needed to piggyback off his brother’s success to gain the attention of CFL scouts, despite what might appear to be a rather pedestrian university career. In 31 games for the T-Birds, he caught just 12 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, but teams aren’t looking to bring him in to threaten defences deep.

At six-foot-three and 245 pounds, the Vernon, B.C. native has both the size and strength that teams covet in an H-back, a relative scarcity in this year’s draft. More importantly, he’s a versatile special teamer and stepped in as UBC’s primary long-snapper last season, performing admirably in a run to the Vanier Cup.

That’s a role that he had performed intermittently since high school, but never full-time at the U Sports level until 2023. That was necessitated when the Edmonton Elks took incumbent snapper Luke Burton-Krahn in the middle of the third round last year, leaving Hladik to fill the shoes of his positional mentor.

“He helped me a lot because he went to camps and stuff, and then he brought back the knowledge and helped me with a little few tweaks here and there,” he said. “He made me better and seeing how good he was at it, I had to step my game up.”

Not every team is sold on Hladik as a full-time professional snapper but his relative inexperience means there is still time to develop. An avid golfer, he has the mental chops to remain persistent in that type of technical and repetitive position, working on his swing until coaches are satisfied.

Either way, the versatility will only help drive up his draft stock in a league where roughly half the franchises are either seeking an upgrade on special teams or eyeing a long-term replacement for an aging snapper. The same is true for fullbacks and tight ends, where a number of players are still kicking around well past their prime because the recent supply has not yet met demand.

Personally, Hladik doesn’t much care where scouts see him fitting next year. He’s more than happy to move to whatever spot he is needed.

“If they want me as a tight end, I’m there. If they want me as a sixth O-lineman and to put on 40 pounds, I’m there too,” he grinned. “Whatever they want, I’m in for it. If they want me to just long snap, I’ll get slimmed down a little bit, get a little faster, and work on it every day.”

That’s the mentality he’s learned from his brother, both in their lone season together at UBC and since he’s gone on to the professional level. Ben has had plenty of advice on how to navigate the draft process but this offseason has been particularly eye-opening for another reason as well, as his brother has gone the extra mile to rehab a late-season injury.

If the chips fall just right, the two may find themselves reunited in the CFL, allowing the older sibling to show the younger one the ropes one more time.

“That would be really cool, living near him and just going up against him in practice. He could help me learn and get better every day, and I know that he would make me,” Brad chuckled. “It would be nice to have him there, but it would be nice to go against him as well.”

If the likelier of the two scenarios occurs, you can expect some Donna Kelce-inspired split jerseys from the Hladik family. However, just like when it comes to star power, Brad is under no illusions as to where he falls in the family rankings.

“If anything, he’s the favourite now. He’s got the wife and kid, you can’t compete with that,” he laughed. “He’s got it locked down for the time being.”

The 2024 CFL Draft is slated for Tuesday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.