Faith Ekakitie is going home.
The Iowa defensive tackle was selected Sunday as the first overall draft pick in the Canadian Football League draft, a first for a Hawkeye football player.
Ekakitie, a native of Brampton, Ontario, was selected by the Winnepeg Blue Bombers and was regarded by the CFL Scouting Bureau as pro-ready, rated fifth on the bureau’s final scouting report released in April.
“Faith Ekakitie is the player that, quite honestly, we’ve had our eyes on for some time now,’’ Winnepeg general manager Kyle Walters said in an interview on the league’s website. “He’s athletic, physical inside and has the character we covet in this organization. We’re very pleased to call Faith’s name first overall.’’
Listed at 6-foot-1, 304 pounds, Ekakitie finished with 39 tackles and two tackles for a loss last season for the Hawkeyes. He also broke up two passes and recorded two quarterback hurries.
Ekakitie said during a March interview that he was interested in CFL opportunities if he was not selected in the NFL draft.
“I didn’t really follow the CFL all that much growing up, but I know it is a good league with good players,’’ Ekakitie said. “The rules are a little different, but the competition is good. Since coming to the United States, my focus has been getting to the NFL. That has been the dream.’’
He had invitations to participate in mini-camps with the Colts and Giants, but ultimately opted to pursue the CFL opportunity.
“This is really cool,’’ Ekakitie told bluebombers.com Sunday. “I’m extremely honored. There aren’t many guys who can say they’re going to get an opportunity like I’m about to get. I feel really honored and blessed.’’
Ekakitie did not play football until he attended Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, signing with Iowa out of that prep program.
“I still feel like I have a lot to learn in this game and that is what I have been telling teams, that I will only get better,’’ Ekakitie said.
Three CFL teams attended Iowa’s pro day in March, but Winnepeg was not among them although Ekakitie had already been ranked in the top-10 on the 20-player list of prospects compiled by CFL Scouting Bureau.
Representatives of British Columbia, Montreal and Toronto were in attendance when Ekakitie recorded a 40-yard dash time of 5.05 seconds, a 28.5-inch vertical leap and had 24 bench press reps.
Ekakitie has signed a two-year contract with the Blue Bombers, who finished 11-7 last season, and is scheduled to report to the team’s preseason camp on May 23.
Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith was taken with the eighth pick of the first round in the CFL draft a year ago, but opted to pursue NFL opportunities and signed as a free agent with the Colts.