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UBC football player drafted to NFL’s Detroit Lions describes ‘dream come true’ | CBC News

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When Giovanni Manu came to Pitt Meadows, B.C., as a youngster from Tonga, he looked set to play rugby — a sport he describes as an “outlet” that helps people in the tiny Pacific island nation feed their families and find a better life.

“We look at it as a way to get off the island,” Manu said of rugby. “Because as nice as it is growing up on the island and whatnot, it’s considered a third world country.” 

After arriving in Canada, however, his athletic director at Pitt Meadows Secondary said rugby isn’t as big in Canada as it is in Tonga.

“She told me they don’t have rugby — but they do have American football,” he said. “So that’s where I discovered that sport. And then, you know, I fell in love with it.”

The towering 23-year-old was drafted by the NFL’s Detroit Lions last week.

Manu, an offensive lineman, was the first UBC Thunderbird to be selected in an NFL draft. He is set to join his new team in June for training camp.

“It’s a dream come true,” he told Gloria Macarenko on CBC’s On The Coast. “It’s something I’ve been chasing since [I was] a child, and something I’ve been chasing since I joined this amazing sport of football.”

Lions traded up to draft Manu

The six-foot-eight, 350-pound Manu and highly touted teammate Theo Benedet anchored a UBC offensive line last season that allowed 15 sacks and helped the offence average 6.8 yards per rush.

The Thunderbirds reached the Vanier Cup last year, dropping a 16-9 decision to the Montreal Carabins. It was UBC’s first appearance in the Canadian university football championship game since 2015.

Benedet, the North Vancouver, B.C., native who was Canadian university football’s top lineman the last two years, signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears after the draft concluded.

Manu described how he started getting buzz in NFL circles after his season with the Thunderbirds concluded, and that multiple scouts put him on their radar after he posted time of 5.03 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had 23 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

On the day of the fourth round, Manu says he wasn’t expecting to hear that he was drafted until his phone rang and he realized he was talking to Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

“The first word he says is that if I’m ready to be a Lion,” he said. “You know, he’s fired right up, and I’m just as excited. I’m like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’

“In my mind I’m trying to keep myself composed because I don’t know how they’re gonna pick me.”

Campbell then told Manu that the Lions rated him so highly that they had traded a valuable draft pick in order to select him in the fourth round, No. 126 overall.

The Lions finished the regular season with a 12-5 record before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. Manu says that the team is just a few puzzle pieces away from making a run at the Super Bowl.

“I’d like to come in and contribute,” he said. “You know, hopefully, we make it to that game this year…. I just can’t wait to get down there and get to work.”

Manu thanked his coaches at UBC for helping him succeed.

“To any kid out there that has huge dreams of making it to the NFL or the CFL — if that’s your dream, you can truly make it,” he said.

“Don’t let nobody tell you nothing’s impossible. Everything’s possible.”

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