When Matt Black was a 16-year-old playing in the Ontario Varsity Football League, younger brother Eric was the team’s water boy.
That’s as close as the Blacks — separated by six years — have come to playing together, until now.
The Toronto Argonauts selected Eric with the 38th overall pick in Tuesday night’s CFL draft, six years after they drafted Matt — the latest and most exciting chapter in the siblings’ story.
“It was crazy. It’s hard to talk about it,” Eric said Wednesday. “It’s something I’ve been working for and dreaming about since I watched my brother do it. And to get drafted to any team, let alone my hometown, with my brother, it’s just a team come true.”
Eric, 23, and 29-year-old Matt met with the media at the Argonauts’ downtown office on Wednesday, their first duty together as teammates. Matt helped Eric thread a television mic down his shirt, joking “He can’t even dress himself.”
The brothers were following the draft together their parents’ Toronto home when Eric’s name came up alongside the Argos. Their mom Marlane cried. Dad Donovan said: “It’s time to get to work.”
“I leapt up. . . ‘I’m staying home, I’m staying home,“’ Eric said.
The brothers, who both attended Toronto’s Northern Secondary School, grew up playing numerous sports — baseball, soccer, rugby, track and field. They took different paths to the CFL. Matt, a 5-10 safety who was taken 45th overall by the Argos in 2008, played college ball at Saginaw Valley State. Eric, a defensive back who’s a couple inches taller than his older brother, played in the CIS at St. Mary’s University.
But Matt has been instrumental in Eric’s development, the younger brother said.
“I’d watch him do everything and try to emulate him, and he’s set a good path for me,” Eric said. “To have my older brother, who’s been teaching me how to handle myself in life and on the field, be on the same team as me, it’s great.”
Matt wiped away a tear as Eric spoke to reporters.
“I’ve always wanted to have that opportunity (to play together),” Matt said. “He was always just a year away from playing with me or two years away from playing with me. So it’s always been close but no cigar. Now the fact that we’re going to get to suit up for the Argos, I think the only person happier than me is my mom. It’s an awesome dream come true.
“He’s worked so hard for this opportunity, he’s done everything he needed to do and that’s what makes me so proud of him, how hard he’s worked.”
Matt began his Argos career on special teams, but persevered to become a solid safety with the team. Eric hopes to do the same.
“Matt is the grind story, what a lot of Canadians wish to be, they start off on special teams, might not get to start right away, but you work your way up, you cut your teeth and now he’s a vet, a contributing member on this team,” Eric said.
Any good feelings between siblings will be put aside during Argos rookie initiations, the brothers said laughing.
“I don’t think he’s going to spare me the rod at all,” Eric said.
Added Matt: “If anything, his spear’s going to be sharper than everyone else’s. He’s going to get it worse. I’ll definitely be calling him up to sing at rookie camp nice and early, so he’d better have a good song. If it sucks, he’s going again.”
Argonauts GM Jim Barker said the club knows it’s getting a solid person in Eric.
“You know a little more about him because Matt is such a quality person in the community, he’s the kind of guy you want to have in your organization,” Barker said. “You know coming from that family, he’s going to be similar. Those kinds of things help. Eric we know really well because of Matt, and that helped making the pick.”
Barker added with a laugh that Matt was down at the Argos office on Tuesday afternoon “politicking” for Eric. He believes the younger brother will be on a faster track to adjusting to the team, “just because he’s going to have Matt who’s telling him things that he sees that he’s doing that he can do better.
“Matt is a veteran guy, one of the most veteran guys we have, so obviously that helps Eric. But he’s going to have to produce on the field, and he’s going to have to be the best guy for this team in order to be a guy who sticks.”
Barker said the team was pleased with the eight players it acquired in a draft that saw five first-round trades as well as another involving an early second-round selection.
“It was just such a bizarre draft, it was one like none I’ve ever been in,” Barker said. “There was no telling what was going to happen.”
The Argos kicked off the first round with a trade that saw them land running back Anthony Coombs (Manitoba Bisons) third overall.
“We were very excited, we had obviously the guy we wanted out the draft the most was Anthony Coombs, and we were able to trade up and get him,” Barker said.
The Argos went on to select Jas Dhillon, a 6-3, 300-pound offensive lineman UBC, Thomas Miles, a linebacker from the Manitoba Bisons, University of Montreal running back Alexandre Dupuis, Evan Pszczonak, a wide receiver out of the University of Windsor, Tore Corrado, a wide receiver from Simon Fraser University, and Acadia defensive lineman Kirby Fletcher.