Uguak developing into young Canadian star for Alouettes

If you’ve been tuning into Alouettes games lately and you’ve noticed number 96 pop off the screen, you aren’t alone. Rookie defensive end Lwal Uguak has been getting more playing time on defence as of late, and he’s rewarded his team by making big play after big play.

The 23-year-old was selected seventh overall by the Als in the 2023 CFL Draft, with a selection acquired from the B.C. Lions in the Vernon Adams Jr. trade. Uguak arrived at training camp a few days late because he was exploring his NFL opportunities, but he’s made an immediate impact on the field.

Uguak, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 271 pounds, brings imposing size and athleticism to the defensive line. The fact that he’s so big isn’t a surprise when you consider the fact that his mom is six-foot-one, his dad is six-feet tall, and one of his older brothers who plays professional basketball in Germany is six-foot-eight.

Uguak has flashed his athletic abilities at various times this year, including once when he blocked a punt in Vancouver in July, but he’s stood out even more over the last few weeks.

“I think I’m still just very hungry,” Uguak said. “I don’t know why, maybe it’s me doing it to myself, but I feel like I have to prove something to someone. I just want to show them that I’m not someone you need to doubt as a player and a teammate.

“I feel I’m confident enough that if coach puts me in, not everything will be perfect, but him being confident in me and me being confident in myself is a good recipe. Coaches make the final decision for whatever happens, and I know that whenever I’m on the field, I’m going to try to make the most of my opportunity.”

On one defensive sequence during the Sep. 15 home game against the Toronto Argonauts, he forced a two-and-out when he brought down running back A.J. Ouellette for a loss on first down before batting down a Chad Kelly pass at the line of scrimmage on second down.

“He’s flying around the ball,” defensive line coach Corvey Irvin said of that sequence against the Argos. “He has very long arms. He just made an inside move and got his hands up. That’s something we teach. He got his hand in the throwing lane and knocked the ball down. …You can see what we saw in the winter come to life.”

“I think his future is bright.”

During last Saturday’s win in Calgary, the Edmonton, Alberta native registered a quarterback sack, two tackles for a loss and he batted down another pass.

Growing up in Edmonton

Uguak is the third of six children in his family, but he was the first of his siblings to be born in Canada. His family, who is from South Sudan, fled their home country because of the civil war. They first moved to Egypt before coming north to Edmonton, Alberta in 1999.

“My mom has always been a hard worker,” Uguak explained. “She came to Canada knowing little to no English. She knows Arabic, she knows Dinka, she knows English now. She’s always been working and trying to provide for us at home.”

The Als defensive end’s father was a senator in South Sudan, which meant that he travelled back and forth between Canada and his native country a lot.

“There would be times when it was just us and my mom,” he said. “She really helped us keep our head on straight. I think that’s why she put us into sports, because she had seen so many South Sudanese immigrants come to Canada and lose it all because they didn’t have any structure.”

Even though he has never visited South Sudan, Uguak says he would like to travel there soon. He does his best to hold on to his South Sudanese roots. He knew that South Sudan gained independence on July 9th, 2011, without looking it up, and he can still speak Arabic and Dinka on a conversational level.

“I understand that I was born in Canada,” the first-year pro said. “But I identify as both. I wouldn’t say I’m one more than the other. There were so many people fleeing South Sudan that there isn’t really a culture to hold on to, so I like to hold on to that at the same time.”

Uguak discovered football thanks to his cousins and eventually began playing alongside his family members. From the ages of seven to 15, he played for the Edmonton Chargers, which is the oldest minor football program in the city.

Uguak was a stand-out throughout his time in minor and high school football, but it wasn’t until Grade 11 when he took his preparation more seriously.

“I had really great friends, but I stopped being a high school kid,” the graduate of Harry Ainley high school said. “I kind of matured a little bit and I started coming in to work out with a couple of my teammates every morning and after school. It started out as something fun, but not too many of us stayed in that routine. I just continued to work. I started to see some progress on the field. I was doing pretty well for myself statistics-wise and football-wise.”

NCAA schools weren’t aware of Uguak at that time, but that changed thanks to another Alberta football star who helped Uguak get noticed.

Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard, who attended Bev Facey Community High in Sherwood Park, Alberta, played against Uguak and believed he had what it took to play at a major school south of the border.

“I have been playing against him since we were very young,” he said of Hubbard. “We played each other in high school, and I think I had a decent game. He already had his offers, and he told me he wanted me to send him my highlight tape.”

Hubbard, who eventually attended Oklahoma State, gave Uguak a hand by putting him in touch with a scout whose job it was to discover under-the-radar athletes. A few weeks later, Uguak had different college coaches reach out to gauge in his interest in playing football in the United States.

Uguak’s first scholarship offer came from Fresno State, but he eventually settled on the University of Connecticut where he spent three seasons before transferring to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lwal Uguak #96

Not many people can say they ended their college career playing on the biggest stage, but Uguak managed to play in the most important college football game of the season during his only year at TCU. The second ranked Horned Frogs made it to the College Football Playoff National Title Game, but they were taken down by the top ranked Georgia Bulldogs, 65-7.

After finishing school, Uguak received rookie minicamp invites from the NFL’s New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Despite doing well in those camps, he wasn’t offered a contract. When an opportunity in Montreal presented itself, he jumped on it.

“I had dreams of going to the NFL,” he admitted. “Things didn’t go my way, but I can’t look back. If I look back, I’m just wasting time. I’m where my feet are at. I just want to play the best I can for the Alouettes. You know how the business goes. Teams can trade you; people want you, then they don’t. Whatever the case may be, I just want to be the best wherever I’m at. If that’s in Montreal for 10 or 15 years, then it’s in Montreal for 10 to 15 years.”