April 30, 2024

A Green and Gold Homecoming For Joel Dublanko

EDMONTON – It was a pick that was just meant to be.

When Joel Dublanko heard his name announced as the first pick in the 2024 CFL Draft, he considered it more than realization of a childhood dream — it was a moment of divine intervention.

“It’s been super crazy, a bit unbelievable,” Dublanko said. “I had a lot of family up in Edmonton, and just the fact that Edmonton had the number-one pick and there was a chance of this happening, I give all the glory to God.

“Just seeing how everything’s kind of lined up and fallen into place, it’s undeniable that his hand has been all over it. It’s been really cool and special, my family is really excited, and I’m just super blessed to be here.”

The Aberdeen, Washington native was a late addition to CFL Draft boards, declaring for the event back in March. Despite many wanting to raise their eyebrows at Dublanko being a born-and-raised American, he is well connected to Canada, and specifically to Northern Alberta.


The 6-3, 240 pound linebacker’s local roots begin with his grandparents.

His grandfather Larry was born and raised in Thorsby, Alberta a mere 72 km away from Commonwealth Stadium. He met and married Joel’s grandmother in Thorsby prior to moving the United States in the 1970s. Both Joel’s grandparents were pastors and it is where he gets his connection to religion and his belief in his divine path.

His belief in that path was strengthened with his selection by the Edmonton Elks. In a bit of serendipity, if it wasn’t for the Edmonton Football franchise, Dublanko may not even be here.

That is not to say he wouldn’t be in the CFL — much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future — he may not even exist.

“(My grandparents) first date they ever had was at an Edmonton Eskimos game, so this place is home for us.” Dublanko said. “This has just been such a cool moment, just being able to have my grandma come up and you can tell this is a home for us. The last time I was here is when my great grandma passed away, but I have a lot of good memories, and family, and a lot of loved ones up here.”

Thankfully the date between Larry and Sharon went off without a hitch and they were eventually able to wed and establish their roots. Although they would move to the States, the ties that bind the Dublankos to Edmonton still run surprisingly deep. Joel’s cousin, Curtis Dublanko, was also a member of the Green and Gold back in 2014.

Curtis Dublanko (#33) runs out of the tunnel for the Edmonton Eskimos in 2014

Curtis played parts of four seasons in the CFL — three years with the Montreal Alouettes and one in Edmonton — before being inducted into the Leduc Sports Hall of Fame in 2023.  As much of an amazing story Dublanko is with his personal connection with the Elks, it won’t mean anything once the stadium lights are on.

Luckily for the Elks, that’s one area where he certainly excels.


In the educated guessing that surrounds any professional league draft, there is always an uncertainty around how a pick will adjust to the pro game. However, in Dublanko’s case, there is much less projection on what he can bring to the next level, because he’s already played at the next level.

Dublanko is a rare commodity among Canadian Football League draft prospects. He attended an NFL training camp in 2022 with the Seattle Seahawks and played a full season professionally with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 2023.

The former Cincinnati Bearcat team captain believes those experience have forged him into a better player.

“I’m confident in who I am and what I bring to the table,” Dublanko said. “I think it’s just been an awesome experience being able to have some of that to fall back on. To have those reps, seeing some of the best guys, training with the best guys, and picking their brains in the locker rooms — it’s been a really big blessing.

“I think it’s helped me prepare even more for this next step. Just knowing what everybody says, ‘prepare like a pro.’ Well, I know what to do because I am a pro.”

Dublanko showed his commitment to the sport and CFL game when he showed up for CFL National Combine in Winnipeg back on March 19. He already had a year’s worth of pro tape to rest his hat on, but still decided to make his presence felt among Canadian Football’s top brass and put his best foot forward. The linebacker blew expectations out of the water with his mix of size, athleticism, and professionalism.

It certainly didn’t hurt that his 4.59-second 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical jump, and 16 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press all but cemented his status as a top prospect.

When it comes to what Elks fans can expect from the linebacker on the field, Dublanko vows to win over fans with his tireless work ethic and team first style of play.

“I would consider myself somebody who just relentlessly pursues the football. I will always be around the football, a high production guy,” Dublanko said about his game. “I’m a guy who’s going to bring energy on defense, going to be a leader in the locker room, play with a high standard, bring others around with me, and try to make other people around me better. I’m somebody who’s a student of the game and loves the game of football. My life really is faith, family and football. That’s what I surround my life with and that’s what I’ve structured my life around.”


As Dublanko was going about the CFL Draft process, he was able to gather some further insight into the league from another famous Canadian/American hybrid in Alex Singleton. The California native gained Canadian Draft eligibility back in 2016, before embarking on a three-year CFL career with the Calgary Stampeders that saw him become a two-time CFL All-Star (2017, 2018) and the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2017.

Singleton has been playing in the National Football League since 2019, leading the league in tackles last year with 177. He was able to share his similar journey with Dublanko and provide him a little insight on what he can expect come training camp in early May.

“It was so nice talking to Alex. He was so generous. He had nothing but great things to say about the CFL. He loved his time there and the people there,” Dublanko said. “He said, ‘don’t overlook your time there or have an attitude of I’m just trying to get out of here. Really enjoy your time because you’ll experience nothing like it. The fans are amazing.’

“He also said, ‘guys up in the CFL, they’re good. Don’t think that you’re going to a secondary league. Some of the guys in the CFL, a lot of them are better than guys down in the NFL, it’s just politics get involved,’ and I’ve fallen subject to that as well.”

Now that he is a member of the Edmonton Elks — celebrating with his family on draft day in an office overlooking the field in Commonwealth Stadium — he is ready to give it his all and justify the team’s conviction in selecting him first overall.

“I love the game of football,” Dublanko said. “I just love to learn it and I feel like this is a new opportunity to learn the game in a different way.”