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Vancouver’s Christian Covington lone Canadian picked in NFL draft

Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington (1) chases Army quarterback Angel Santiago (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Point, N.Y., on Oct. 11, 2014. Grover Covington terrorized CFL quarterbacks over his 11-year career, registering a league-record 157 sacks as a defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington (1) chases Army quarterback Angel Santiago (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Point, N.Y., on Oct. 11, 2014. Grover Covington terrorized CFL quarterbacks over his 11-year career, registering a league-record 157 sacks as a defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Hans Pennink

Christian Covington doesn’t have to go far to begin his pro football career.

The Rice defensive lineman went in the sixth round, No. 216 overall, to the Houston Texans in the NFL draft Saturday. The school is roughly five kilometres from NRG Stadium, the club’s home venue.

“To have a team such as the Houston Texans, who are just right down the street, to be interested in this way, this is a dream come true for me,” Covington told reporters during a conference call.

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The six-foot-two, 289-pound Covington, from Surrey, B.C., was the lone Canadian taken in the three-day draft, which was held in Chicago. Covington watched Saturday’s proceedings on TV in B.C. with about 45 family members and friends.

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Covington, who declared for the draft despite having one year of eligibility remaining, had 20 tackles and three sacks last season. He missed four games with the Owls, including the final three with a dislocated knee cap that required surgery in November.

In 2013, Covington had 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks to earn All-Conference USA first-team honours despite playing most of the campaign with a cast on his right hand because of a thumb injury. Covington says his knee is a non-issue.

“I’m fully recovered,” Covington said. “I know when I get back to Houston there will be re-evaluating my knee . . . but I’m ready to get the ball rolling.”

Covington won’t have to wait long. He and other rookies will report Friday for a three-day mini-camp in Houston.

Covington’s selection is bad news for CFL clubs as he’s the top-ranked prospect for the league’s draft later this month. Now, any team selecting Covington will have to wait for him to arrive.

Covington has CFL roots. His father, Grover, registered a league-record 157 sacks over 11 seasons as a defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1981-’91) and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

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Christian Covington is the first Rice interior defensive lineman drafted since ’76 when Cornelius Walker went in the third round to the Kansas City. He joins a Texans’ defensive front that features veteran tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end J.J. Watt, twice the NFL’s top defensive player.

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“Everywhere you go you hear J.J. Watt,” Covington said. “To actually have a chance to be able to be on a team with him right now, that in itself is motivation for me to be able to come and perform with my best every day.”

NFL Network’s Charles Davis praised Houston for selecting Covington.

“When you look at what he can get done, another one of those guys in the right situation (can get) up field, disrupt things, help out your football team,” Davis said after Houston made the pick. “In the AFC South you’ve got to disrupt everything Indianapolis does if you want to make headway.”

Mike Mayock, the NFL network’s respected draft guru, also complimented Covington.

“One of the more intelligent kids I’ve ever met,” he said.

Neither South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge, a native of Mississauga, Ont., nor Yale running back Tyler Varga of Kitchener, Ont., were selected. Both were projected as potential late-round selections but could sign NFL deals as undrafted free agents.

The six-foot-four, 229-pound Bridge politely declined comment immediately following the draft but later Saturday signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions.

Bridge, who has run a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, appeared in 11 games last year with the Jaguars, completing 160 of 307 passes (52.1 per cent) for 1,927 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for 297 yards and four TDs.

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Bridge capped his college career by playing in the NFLPA Bowl, then worked out at the NFL combine before auditioning for pro scouts at his pro day.

The five-foot-10, 227-pound Varga ran for 1,423 yards and a school-record 26 TDs last season and was named the Ivy League’s offensive player of the year. He was also a first-team all-star nod.

Varga was Canadian university football’s top rookie in 2011 at Western before transferring to Yale. In January, he became just the second Yale player ever to play in the Senior Bowl and was invited to the NFL combine.