For young children across America, sports idols are paramount to them. Some dream of being the next Steph Curry of basketball, or Tom Brady of football, or perhaps Shohei Ohtani of baseball.
Although the odds say that would be unlikely, every major sports star had to start from somewhere. For the upcoming generation of sports enthusiasts growing up in Grays Harbor County, an idol for them could be on the horizon.
Joel Dublanko, an Aberdeen native, is signing a deal with the New Orleans Saints following the NFL Draft. The signing will make Dublanko the 11th person from Aberdeen High School to make it to the NFL since Mark Bruener, who played from 1995-2008 for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. He also becomes the third NFL player ever to be born in Aberdeen.
Dublanko spent his entire collegiate career with the Cincinnati Bearcats from 2016-21 leading the Bearcats to their first College Football Playoff spot in school history as a team captain while collecting First Team All-AAC accolades. He also recorded a team high 113 total tackles in his final season with the Bearcats at the middle linebacker position. Dublanko described his time at Cincinnati as pivotal and a big reason he’s moving on to the pro level.
“Cincinnati really developed me into the player and person I am today. They really taught me core principles and just understanding the X’s and O’s on the field at a high level,” Dublanko said via phone call. “The culture was just extremely good with promoting competitive spirit and getting the most out of you.”
For a lot of new NFL hopefuls, being drafted by a team is always the goal, but there are other avenues for those who don’t get their name called. One of those avenues is being signed as an undrafted free agent, like Dublanko was. However, despite not hearing his name called among the 262 people selected during the 2022 NFL Draft, Dublanko took the high road to look at the positives of it.
“Everyone trying to get into the NFL dreams about hearing their name get called, but honestly it felt like a blessing to get signed where I did,” Dublanko admitted. “The Saints have an outstanding program and I’m really looking forward to working with the guys in the linebacker room and defense as a whole.”
Dublanko will compete for a chance to play alongside a talented Saints linebacking core led by linebacker Damario Davis, who Dublanko characterized as a “beast.” He was also quick to express his excitement to play on the same field as new Saints acquisition, safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has spent nine years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs.
According to Dublanko, other teams were interested in his services outside the Saints, such as the Vikings, Commanders and Jets, but was overly compelled to join the Saints. Dublanko was quick to acknowledge his roots and expressed what the idea of getting a chance to be in the NFL means to him, as well as his family.
“It’s a complete dream come true coming as a kid from Aberdeen. It’s the start of a lot of work and I can’t wait to get going.” Dublanko humbly confessed.
Dublanko, who is actively training in Seattle, will report to the Saints rookie minicamp on May 13, where he will get his first chance at carving out a spot for himself on the 53-man roster that is required by every NFL team at the end of preseason in late August.
According to Dublanko’s father, Craig Dublanko, the deal negotiated is a three-year contract for $2.8 million. The guaranteed amount was undisclosed.
For people who are interested in following along with Dublanko’s journey in the NFL, he recommends that people follow him on his Instagram account @jublanko as well as his Twitter account (@JDublanko29) to know up to date information.