Redblacks continue to make waves

By: Santino Filoso

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Seems like the Ottawa Redblacks aren’t quite done making off-season moves. Early Tuesday morning the team leaked news via their twitter account that they had a major announcement to make and members of #RNation began speculating immediately as to what it could be.

In a very neat move, the team first broke the news of their latest free agent splash through a personal email to season ticket holders.

By signing the diminutive 5’ 8″ and 175 pound all-star Chris Williams to a one year deal, the Redblacks have added one of the most dynamic CFL players in recent memory. Williams, a dual threat WR and KR was named the CFL’s most outstanding rookie in 2011 when he broke into the league with 70 receptions for 1064 receiving yards and 6 TDs. 

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Williams’ sophomore season was just as impressive, as he was named the CFL’s most outstanding special teams player, making 83 catches for 1298 yards with receiving 11 TDs to go along with 5 punt return touchdowns. Who was throwing Williams the ball in 2012? None other than current Redblacks’ QB Henry Burris. If they can quickly re-establish that kind of rapport, TD Place might finally start living up to it’s name.

After the 2012 season, Williams left the CFL following a contract dispute with the Hamilton Ticats and wound up signing with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints in 2013. Following a short stint with the Chicago Bears last season, Williams was thought to be a long shot to return to the CFL, as he’s someone who still garners NFL interest, as evidenced by his workout earlier this month with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though he hasn’t played a ton of snaps over the last two seasons, his 101 yard kick return touchdown last year vs the Green Bay Packers shows that his agility and speed haven’t diminished.

GM Marcel Desjardins deserves major props for a) making this deal happen and b) keeping it under wraps until this morning’s email to season ticket holders. At Williams’ introductory press conference Desjardins explained how things fell into place to get the deal done.

“Chris’ versatility and return ability is something we couldn’t pass up. Going back to last October, we had money budgeted to land this player. If it came to fruition, we were in a great place and if it didn’t, we could do other things. For me it was just a function of reaching out and letting Chris and his agent know we were interested. I respected their process. I didn’t badger them for answers. Once they came to ‘we need to look at the CFL now,’ it went well.”

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Image via Scott Grant

Though Williams will have to re-adjust to the CFL, the wider field and recent rule changes should enable him to pick up right where he left off. Plus at only 27 years of age, Williams theoretically should still have his best years in front of him.

With the signing, the revamped and already deep Ottawa WR core becomes that much more crowded. As things stands now the Redblacks have newcomers Brad Sinopoli, Maurice Price, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson plus holdovers from last season such as Kierrie Johnson, Khalil Paden, Eddie Poole, Jamill Smith, Marcus Henry, Scott Macdonell and Matt Carter.

From that group, the only WR who returned kicks last season was Jamill Smith. Smith had decent numbers, averaging 20.9 yards on kick returns and 8.6 yards on punts but Smith’s longest return was only 38 yards and he failed to score a touchdown. Though he seems like a great guy and has been very involved in the community, living in Ottawa this off-season and visiting schools with Big Joe and other Redblacks’ players, the Williams signing probably signals the end of Smith’s time with the team.

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Is there space on the roster for both Smith and Williams?

Chris Williams is yet another game breaker for Jason Maas to scheme with and it seems safe to say that the drops and lack of explosive plays that plagued the Redblacks last season won’t be repeated in 2015. With the Redblacks’ mini-camp set to start next week, it’ll be interesting to see how the battle for roster spots shakes out in Ottawa’s competitive and now very talented WR group.

@RedBlackGade

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The Evolution of Renegade Nation

By: Santino Filoso

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Every fan base has them, those die-hards who stick with their team through thick and thin. But in most cities, those fans aren’t as well organized or as close as one group in Ottawa. Back before every single fan base in every single sport gave themselves the “Nation” moniker, there was Renegade Nation.

In 2002, six years after the historic Rough Riders franchise folded leaving a gaping hole at Lansdowne Park and in the hearts of their fans, the Renegades returned CFL football to Ottawa. During the CFL’s absence, internet use exploded and across the country online forums like the 13th Man (http://www.13thman.com/) sprung up for CFL fans to preview games, play armchair GM, debate player personnel moves and plan tailgates. Tired of being left out in the cold, a couple of passionate fans, Phil Tanguay JF Fournier, Glen Handley and Shane Johns decided to take matters into their own hands. After a chance meeting at an early season game, Renegade Nation was born.

For Handley, you could say that the foundation of Renegade Nation was the consummation of a lifetime of supporting Ottawa football. It began with a childhood summer boating trip from Kingston up the Rideau River to Ottawa. “We were floating along, and just after passing Dow’s Lake I saw a huge building, full of people. I asked my mother what it was and she replied that it was where the Ottawa football team played. At that moment, an enormous roar bellowed from the stadium. I was awestruck and the sound of those fans sent a chill through me that I still feel to this day.” From that moment onwards, Handley has been obsessed with Ottawa’s CFL teams. Despite living in Oshawa, he never missed a Rough Riders game, (normally watching on TV but sometimes in person when the opportunity presented itself) and eventually moved to Ottawa for school, mainly because of the team. Unfortunately, shortly after he relocated to the capital, the Rough Riders folded. When football returned in 2002, Handley was as passionate as ever and quickly bought season tickets.

After it’s inception, it didn’t take long for a Renegade Nation flag (featuring their beloved mascot Skully) and tents to become fixtures behind the South Side stands in Lansdowne’s parking lot on game day, often appearing 10 hours before kick off. As word spread, groups of 20-30 people were regularly tailgating with members of Renegade Nation. Soon, their tailgates featured drop ins by Renegade staff members, players and coaches.

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Members of Renegade Nation tailgating
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Gerald Vaughn stopping by before the game

Along with the Southsiders (with whom they are closely aligned), Renegade Nation was a visible fan presence the Renegades sorely needed.  “We had a pretty symbiotic relationship with the team”, recalls Shane Johns. “We helped them generate buzz, gave some great visuals to TSN, and they treated us well”. While not overly rowdy, Renegade Nation always managed to express themselves. In fact, an unnamed member made it a point to moon the opponent’s team bus each week as the visitors arrived at the stadium. “That got a huge laugh out of Pinball Clemons when the Argos came in” remembers Johns.

One of Renegade Nation’s proudest moments came in 2005, when two players were fined following an on field scuffle. Members of Renegade Nation believed that the Ottawa players were merely sticking up for their teammates and so a hat was passed around to raise money to help pay the fines. They collected more than $300 and with the help of a local reporter, managed to get access to the team locker room to turn the money over to the players. One of the players being fined, Jerome Haywood, was overcome with emotion and had tears in his eyes when he found out what the money was for. “For us, it was just part of supporting the team”, says Johns.

But perhaps the online forum’s true value was only fully realized when Ottawa lost it’s CFL team for the second time. “That announcement in April 2006 was like a collective punch to the gut” says Dennis Prouse, “yet the Nation hung together. We used this board, and the friendships we built, to encourage each other, keep the spirit of football alive, and ultimately strategize and help out with the efforts to secure another franchise and revitalize Lansdowne Park. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everything Nation members did in terms of writing letters, doing media interviews, appearing at public meetings, and anything else we could think of to bring the CFL back to Ottawa. Those were some dark times, but we never lost hope, and I like to believe that the spirit of Renegade Nation played a significant role in the establishment of the REDBLACKS and the building of TD Place.”

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Members gathered at Hometown to watch the Redblacks away game in Winnipeg

The friendships built during the Renegade era are what helped so many members cope during those dark days. “From 2006 to 2009 or so, things were bleak. We would all constantly check the board to see if there was any news. Everyone was bummed about losing our team, but we had each other to bitch to and that was something. By 2010 we had a feeling we’d get our team back but with the endless delays our patience was really tested. Then one day it finally happened. All of us have been through a lot together. We’ve had get togethers at Gee Gee games, and one year we even did a Christmas dinner that had 30 guys show up!” says Cam McFayden, another long time member. “With over 100 registered members, during the lean years we probably had a group of 10-15 guys who still posted regularly”.

The beauty of an online forum is that it truly allows anyone to be included. Take the case of Solar Max, Renegade Nation’s lone West Coast member and currently the Redblacks furthest living season ticket holder, as confirmed by Jeff Hunt himself. Max’s grandfather and father were both season ticket holders in Ottawa during the ‘60s and ‘70s and Max grew up watching his father being able to park anywhere he wanted at Lansdowne on game days due to the huge R decal on his windshield. Living so far from Ottawa, Max had no idea that the private Renegade Nation forum even existed until 2005. As he puts it: “In 2005, the Grey Cup was held in Vancouver and while I’d been to Grey Cups in other cities, I hadn’t done one near where I lived in a long while. I decided to volunteer to pick up various Ottawa fans and dignitaries at Vancouver airport attending Greg Cup”.

One of those Ottawa fans he gave a ride to just happened to be Glen Handley. During the ride they got to talking and when questioned by Glen about the numerous Ottawa logos plastered on his car, Max replied that he was the only Ottawa fan he knew in BC. That’s when Max received his invitation and membership to Renegade Nation.

“I was over the moon to discover a world of people like me that lived, breathed, ate and slept Ottawa football” he says. “I had a duplicate of our Renegade Nation flag with Skully made, and I took it to every CFL stadium in 2006 after our team was murdered by Tom Wright and the CFL’s Board of Governors, in order to show other cities and fans that we of Renegade Nation, we die-hard Ottawa fans would not be forgotten, or shoved aside.”

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Skully’s Cross Canada Tour: BC
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Skully’s cross Canada Tour: Edmonton
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Skully’s cross Canada Tour: Calgary
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Skully’s cross Canada Tour: Regina
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Skully’s Cross Canada Tour: Winnipeg
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Skully’s cross Canada Tour: Toronto
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Skully’s Cross Canada Tour: Hamilton

While Ottawa might not have had a team between 2006-2013, that never stopped members of Renegade Nation from attending the Grey Cup. Every year a group of members coordinate their accommodation and which events they attend to always ensure that Ottawa was well represented at the country’s biggest party.

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R-Nation at the 102nd Grey Cup

When football finally returned to Ottawa last season, many in Renegade Nation felt it was time to rebrand, in order to stay modern and relevant. Some in the group felt that Renegade Nation was too outdated and clung to the past, so after some discussion someone proposed the name R-Nation. “The R is to represent the Rough Riders, Renegades, and Redblacks and it also sounds like ‘Our Nation’ which has a great feel to it” explains Handley. “The main thing was incorporating the R since it’s been such a great logo for us”.

New R-Nation Banner based on Renegaders Work w hyphen

After voting to rebrand as R-Nation, members of the group began using the hashtag on twitter, especially when tweeting at the team. “We wanted Ottawa’s fan base to have a good nickname” says Santino Filoso, “Redblacks Nation doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue the same way R-Nation does”. Much to OSEG’s credit, they took the ball and ran with it, quickly adopting and using the moniker on their various social media platforms.

Another key change Renegade Nation made was to move from a private forum, where membership was only granted by invitation or word of mouth, to an open public forum, accessible to anyone at all willing to talk Ottawa football. Though everyone is now welcome (including fans of opposing teams), spamming and trolling with not be tolerated, meaning first time offenders will be permanently banned.

With a recent overhaul of their website and new members joining every day, things have never been better for members of R-Nation. When not chatting online, members meet up on game days, tailgating however they can. With no on site tailgating currently allowed at Lansdowne, the group has been forced to get creative, using Carleton’s parking lot this past season, despite run ins with campus security. “It’s unfortunate that tailgating in the shadow of TD Place isn’t currently an option” says Handley, “but I’m confident that with a little bit of patience we’ll figure something out”.

So what are you waiting for? Head over to http://r-nation.ca/ and join today!

@RedBlackGade

P.S. A huge thank you to all members of Renegade Nation who made this story possible

#TBT: Looking back with Pat Woodcock

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we catch up with Pat Woodcock, one of the most successful CFL players to come out of Ottawa. After finishing his college career at Syracuse University and a short stint in the NFL with the New York Giants (and later the Washington Redskins), Woodcock began his CFL career in Montreal. 2002 was a breakout year for Woodcock, culminating with a Grey Cup ring, a Grey Cup record and the Dick Suderman Trophy (awarded to the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian). In 2004 Woodcock signed with the Renegades and over the following two seasons made 64 catches for 860 yards and 5 TDs, averaging 13.4 yards per catch. Following the Renegades dispersal draft, Woodcock went on to play for Edmonton Eskimos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before retiring in 2008.

Growing up were you a Rough Rider fan and did you ever imagine you’d play professionally at Lansdowne?

I think everyone at some point dreams of playing for their hometown team when they’re playing pickup games or dreaming about the future. As a kid, I had the chance to play during halftime of 1988 Grey Cup, which of course was an amazing experience. The Rough Riders folded just as I headed to Syracuse University to play college football, so it certainly wasn’t on my radar by that time.

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In the 90th Grey Cup (2002), you won the Most Valuable Canadian award and had a historic 99 yard touchdown play. Take us through it.

Field conditions were lousy, and it had been a really slow start to the game for both sides. During the week, we’d played around with different receiver formations to capitalize on match ups. For this play, I ended up in the slot closest to Anthony Calvillo on the wide side of the field. The route was called D97; the receiver outside of me had a “Go” or “9” route, and I was running diagonally across the field. Basically the safety had to choose one of us, and he chose poorly. As the ball got to me I could feel him just missing the tackle behind me, then it was a pure sprint to the end zone. When I got to the sideline, Chris Cuthbert told me that I’d set the record for longest TD reception in the Grey Cup. For a Canadian kid who grew up with the Grey Cup being the biggest day of the year, it was a pretty surreal moment.

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How would you describe your time with the Renegades?

I think the only way to describe it would be bittersweet. It was frustrating that we were never able to use the full talent of the players on our team and achieve more success. And the way we were treated by management was extremely disappointing, we all had such high hopes for the organization, but unfortunately the owners at the time had no interest in really trying to run a professional team.

On the other hand, I was able to fulfill a dream and play for the hometown team, and it was amazing being able to play in front of friends and family again after having been away for college and the early part of my pro career. Not to mention that of all the teams I played for, it’s the Renegades teammates that I’m most in contact with today.

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After the 2005 season, did the players have a feeling the Renegades were going to fold or did it catch you off guard?

I don’t know if we really thought the team would fold, but obviously we knew that things weren’t moving in a good direction. It wasn’t much of a surprise to be honest.

Why did you wear #16?

When I first started playing at 8 years old, they gave me #16. I changed numbers a couple of times when I was in high school, but then when I got to Syracuse they gave me #16 as well. I took that as a bit of a sign and just kept it after that.

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Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

I think it’s easy to say the 2002 season; being named an all-star, winning the Grey Cup and the Top Canadian Award, and setting that record. But I’m proud of my career as a whole, I had a dream and a goal from a very young age and made a plan, worked really hard, and achieved everything I dreamed of. Not many people get to say that.

What was your most disappointing loss?

Probably the 2003 Grey Cup. I definitely felt like we had as good a team if not better than in ’02, but on that particular day things didn’t go our way. It would’ve been pretty special to win two Grey Cups back-to-back.

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Who is the funniest guy you ever played with?

Wow, that’s a really hard question, football locker rooms are pretty crazy places and I played for 8 years. If I had to pick one guy for all-round craziness and non-stop jokes, it would have to be Sherrod Gideon. He was a receiver for the Renegades in 2004 and I’m not sure that guy ever said a serious word in his life.

What are you currently doing for work?

I actually partnered with another former Renegade, Donnie Ruiz, and together we run Elite Performance Academy in Kanata. We’re a High Performance Athlete Development Program and we work with many of Ottawa’s top athletes. Our clients include professional and national level athletes from the NFL, CFL, NASL, NLL, Team Canada Baseball, Basketball and Taekwondo, Team Ontario Game Medalists, Team France Lacrosse, prep school athletes with scholarships in football, basketball and lacrosse. Not to mention over 60 NCAA and CIS athletes in every sport from football to soccer to rugby and rowing.

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If you had one piece of advice you could offer young football players, what would it be?

It’s actually that they’re playing too much football! With the way the various leagues (at least in Ontario) are set up, many young athletes are playing close to 30 football games in a single year. There are lots of issues with this, all stemming around the fact that because they are always playing, they never have a chance to just work on their individual game. They’re constantly beating down their bodies physically, and not spending any time actually developing the strength, speed, and skill required to compete at the next level.  It also means 30 games worth of collisions and head impacts, which surely is influencing the number of concussions we’re seeing in young players.

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Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates?

Yes, quite a few. As I mentioned, I work with Donnie Ruiz every day and we also run Elite Football Academy during the winter and have had a number of former teammates as part of our coaching staff, including Darren Joseph, Steve Glenn, Mike Sutherland.  Yo Murphy and Kerry Joseph are also involved in training athletes (in the States), so we keep in touch with them as well.

Now that you are retired, what do you most miss about playing in the CFL?

I miss the guys, and the competition. I’m lucky in that my post football career provides a little bit of both of those things; our staff and our athletes are kind of like being in a locker room and we compete with our athletes occasionally as part of their training and development. But it’s not quite the same, there’s nothing like a football family and going on the field each week and laying it on the line together.

Are you a Redblacks season ticket holder?

Yes sir and I’m looking forward to season two! There’s definitely a different feel to games when you’re watching from the stands.

Thanks for everything Pat and best of luck training the next generation of CFL athletes!

@RedBlackGade

– All images via Scott Grant Photography

#TBT: An Interview with Mike Vilimek

By: Santino Filoso

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Vancouver born and raised, today’s guest, Mike Vilimek, played RB and LB in high school before going on to set school records at Simon Fraser University. Drafted with the second of two 1st round picks the Renegades held in the 2002 CFL draft, Vilimek played for 3 years in Ottawa before signing with Montreal as a free agent in 2005.

As a Vancouver native, did you get out to a lot of Lions games as a kid?

Yes. My most memorable was the 1994 Grey Cup, when the Lions faced the Baltimore Stallions. I was only 15 at the time and was offered a pair of tickets at the last minute. After Lui Passaglia kicked the game-winning field goal for the Lions, the building erupted. It was a great experience.

 

You played university football at Simon Fraser, setting a school record for most rushing yards in a game with 315. What do you remember about that day?

Often when a back sets a rushing record, the game is a blowout. Not in this case. We were in a close back-and-forth match-up with Humboldt State University. We ended up needing every one of those yards to beat them 37-34. I also surpassed the SFU single season rushing record that game so it was a very special day for me.

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The Renegades selected you 2nd overall in the 2002 draft, did you feel any pressure being drafted so high?

Not really. All the excitement of the team’s inaugural season plus the fact that every player on the team was a first-year Renegade lessened the focus on rookies like myself. That being said, I had success running the ball in our first pre-season game which I think probably set higher expectations for me than being drafted 2nd overall did. Unfortunately, that success in the pre-season didn’t translate into opportunities to carry the ball in the regular season.

During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?

Josh got that nickname because every time he touched the ball, he ran with it like he was angry. And he had a lot of success doing it. Off the field, he was very polite, no ego, and was one of the nicest guys on the team. Blocking for a guy like that is always fun.

A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?

Not really. I can’t say it was ever a distraction to me as a player. However, I left for Montreal as a free agent after the 2004 season, so I never experienced ownership under the Gliebermans. But if you ask players from the 2005 season, they may have a different story.

Throughout your career you were a special teams ace, making numerous tackles on kick coverage. What’s the trick to containing a dangerous returner?

Usually a dangerous returner is going to be faster than you, so the only way to contain him is to use the sidelines, your teammates, and by keeping proper angles. You can’t allow him to turn it into a foot race because you’ll lose.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

Some guys like to listen to music or yell and jump up and down. My routine was more about visualization. I’d walk through the game in my mind and visualize the plays I would make. That way when the game started I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

What was the best hit you ever gave and the worst you received?

The best hit I gave was in a game versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I lined up as a slot receiver just outside the defensive end. The play was designed to come wide to my side so at the snap of the ball, the defensive end came up field thinking he had a free run at the QB. He never saw it coming. It was one of those hits where the guy goes airborne. For the rest of the game, I could see him looking where I was lined up before each play.

The worst hit I received wasn’t one of those highlight real hits and it’s not the kind of hit many fans would even notice. When you’re in a pile of people and someone gets a running start at you, the momentum from the hit has no where to go but to be absorbed by your body. Those hits hurt the most.

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In 2005 you signed with Montreal and went on to become a goal line specialist, scoring 5 TDs that season. Did you do anything differently that year or was it just a case of the coach giving you an opportunity?

I never got much of a chance to contribute as a ball carrier with Ottawa. I had success running the ball in the pre-season three years in a row, (interestingly enough against Montreal, who I would eventually sign with as a free agent) but that pre-season success in Ottawa never transferred to opportunities in the regular season. In my first year with Montreal, they simply gave me the chance, and I ran with it, literally.

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Where do you feel is the toughest stadium in the CFL to go in and get a win?

Definitely BC Place. In my years with Ottawa and Montreal, we never once got a win at BC Place, regular season or playoffs. We could beat BC at home, but never at their place. Some blamed the 3 hour time change where a 7pm kickoff meant teams from back East were playing starting a game at 10pm. I don’t really buy that, but I don’t have a better explanation either.

Why #35?

When I arrived at SFU as a freshman, that happened to be the number that was available. After the success I had at the university level, I wanted to keep the same number. Fortunately I was able to get #35 as both a Renegade and as an Alouette.

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Are there any losses that still haunt you?

Yeah. The 2005 and 2006 Grey Cup games. I got to play in two Grey Cups in my CFL career, but ended up retiring without a ring. Any professional athlete will tell you retiring without ever winning the ‘big one’ is tough.

Since you retired, what have you been doing for work?

I’m a Director at Oracle, one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world. I lead a team responsible for the global go-to-market strategies and activities for Oracle’s HCM Cloud solutions.

Did you still keep in touch with any other former Renegades?

Not as much as I used to. It pains me to say, but most of the updates I get now come from Facebook.

Any plans to return to Ottawa and catch a Redblacks game?

Ottawa is a great city, especially in the summer. I haven’t been back since I stopped playing but I hope to make it back soon. I’d love to take in a Redblacks game. Even with the renovated stadium, I’m sure it would bring back a lot of memories.

Thanks for your time Mike and hope to see you in Ottawa soon!

@RedBlackGade

– All images via Scott Grant and Google

#TBT: Catching up with Mike Maurer

By: Santino Filoso

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Our guest today is former Ottawa Renegade FB Mike Maurer. Maurer, a Saskatoon native, was selected from BC by the Renegades in their 2002 expansion draft, and went on to start 44 games during his time in Ottawa. Known for being a bruising back with a penchant for laying devastating blocks, the two time winning Grey Cup champion (2000 and 2005) enjoyed a stand out 13 year career in the CFL and finished in a tie for second place on the CFL’s career special teams tackles list.

Before breaking into the CFL, you served in the Canadian Forces, tell us about that experience.

At the time, I thought that might be my career path, as I chose not to play football after graduating high school. Being in the military taught  me valuable lessons; how to work hard, be a team player, self discipline, what it means to be mentally tough, and to be part of and do something greater than myself.

What was your initial reaction when you found out that you’d been selected by the Renegades in their expansion draft?

A little disbelief but lots of excitement at the same time. The Lions weren’t offering a very flattering contract extension, so with Ottawa selecting me that early it meant I was wanted and valued, and that felt great.

During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?

Josh is an unbelievable guy, someone I’m still good friends with to this day. Josh also exemplifies what it is to be a professional athlete – the first one in the building and last one to leave. For those reasons, it was easy for me and everyone on offense to block for him because he worked so hard and wanted the team to be successful so badly.

The only rushing TD of your career came while you were on the Renegades, talk us through that play.

To be honest I don’t remember the play too much, it’s in the books as a run but I actually think it was a fumble recovery. We were on the goal line and I blocked my man into the end zone and was looking over my shoulder to watch Darren Davis run in, but the ball popped onto the ground and I just jumped on it.

As a blocking fullback who was a dual threat on screens, what was your favourite play to run? 

In Ottawa we ran something like a bit of a shovel pass where it looked like a zone-lead play. I’d motion to the left and the tailback and QB would play-action to the left while I slipped behind the line back to the right. That’s when the QB would turn and dump it to me.  A mis-direction play like that was normally good for a solid gain, especially if we’d been running the ball well throughout the game.

Joe Paopao is often credited with keeping the Renegades team very close, even through challenging and difficult times. What did you most respect about him as a coach?

It’s always beneficial for a coach when he’s actually been a player himself, because when he’s coaching the guys know he’s walked in their shoes. Joe wore his heart on his sleeve, and he had such passion for the game.  He was always coming up with activities for the team to do together, and he knew how to treat his players. I don’t think I could pick one thing but he really knew how to get the players to go to war for him and leave it all out there on the field in a way I haven’t seen from anyone else.

In 2005, you were a member of the Eskimos and played in what I consider to be one of the best Grey Cups in CFL history. You were named the Most Valuable Canadian for your role in the victory. Looking back now, what sticks with you about that game?

I recently watched the game for the first time since 2005.  What struck me while I was watching it was that it felt like I was watching the wrong game. When I played I was never a scoreboard watcher, so it felt wrong seeing the score with Montreal being ahead for so much of it. During the game it felt like we had it all under control and had all the confidence in the world, as if the final result was a foregone conclusion. I was so surprised watching it again to see we were the ones to come from behind and tie to send it into overtime. It just didn’t have that feeling.

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What was the biggest hit you ever gave or received?

I know I’ve had my fair share of big hits dealt: some special teams blind-sides and as a FB burying a guy or knocking guys clean off their feet on a peel-back or downfield hit. But I specifically remember a few times where I got blown up: Fred Perry got me on kickoff cover and I didn’t see him coming and he ear holed me pretty good. I essentially did a cartwheel, but I did get up immediately and still got in on the tackle. The other was while I was with Edmonton and I ran a shallow pattern into the flat, Ricky Ray shouldn’t have thrown me the ball since there was a corner sitting in the zone but he did. I caught the pass and the split second I turned my head the DB hit me in the chin with his crown and the first thing that hit the ground was my head. I believe it was dubbed the hit of the year on TSN.

Over the course of your career you racked up 168 special teams tackles. What’s the trick to bringing down a dangerous returner?

You know if I had known I was that close to the all-time record which I think was 182 or something I would have played another season to be #1. I was a tailback early in my career, and my aggressiveness matched just about anyone. I suppose my aggressiveness plus being given the opportunity to make tackles, combined with the reckless abandon of not caring what happened to my body, was the recipe.

In your opinion, which stadium has the best hecklers?

Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Montreal and Hamilton were all tough places to play. That being said, it’s got to be Saskatchewan or Hamilton though I’d probably put Hamilton #1 because it seemed like the fans were so close to the field, they seemed right on top of you.

After retiring following the 2007 season, late in 2008 and then again in 2009 you came out of retirement to play a few more games. What led to those decisions?

My daughters got to an age where they’d often voice their opinion of me playing away from home, so that’s how I knew it was time to hang them up. As for me coming out of retirement, it was something that kind of caught everyone by surprise, but I felt a strong allegiance to Edmonton as they’d treated me so well. In 2008 they asked if I wanted to be part of a playoff push and since it only ended up being the last 4 games of regular season and 2 playoff ones, I wasn’t gone from home for too long  Then in 2009, right before the Labour Day home and away with Calgary, Edmonton was hit with the injury bug.  I think 3 or 4 Canadian backs were hurt and they needed someone that could come in and start on offense. There wasn’t really any players out there that could’ve walk in off the street to start so I decided to come back again. The tricky part about 2009 was that the offensive terminology was different, so Ricky Ray would call the play in the huddle, then as we broke and walked to the line he’d call the play again as we used to call it in the past, just for me to understand. Looking back it’s pretty funny, thankfully Ricky Ray was a great QB to play with and he helped me a lot. After that stint I realized I needed to stay retired, I’d escaped my career without major injury and wanted to stay keep things that way.

How would you characterize yourself as a player and did you have anyone you tried to model your game after?

As a player all I wanted to do was leave it all out on the field, every play, every game. I looked at every play as a street fight where I needed to win my 1-on-1 battle.  So in a few words I’d like to think of myself as a tough, hard-nosed guy that gave everything he had every play, regardless of the score.  I tried to be the best version of myself, and tried to take what I had and make the most of it.

Why did you wear #19?

It stuck because after I made the team with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the media told me I was the first person to make the team after being assigned #19 in over a decade.  I thought maybe that was good luck sign so I kept it. Also, back then it was an oddball number and I enjoyed being different.

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What was your typical pre-game meal?

It was pretty much always a chicken breast, pasta and fresh vegetables and fruit.

In the 2006 off-season you made headlines when you debuted in the Maximum Fighting Championship. How did that come about?

Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu were part of my offseason training and I enjoyed the sport, it was a great hobby that I still train in and don’t consider myself retired from it at all.  During an interview I mentioned that I trained and had the desire to compete and Mark Pavelich, who was with the Maximum Fighting Championship, heard that and approached me.

Tell me thing that the average CFL fan doesn’t know about you.

I’m a board game geek.  My idea of a fun night would be to have family or friends over to play some games. Strategy games like the Game of Thrones board game, Spartacus, Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Pandemic, Kingsburg, Last Night on Earth, and Red Dragon Inn are my favourites.  I probably have in the neighbourhood of 50 games that I like to play depending on my mood or the group I’m with.

What are you doing for work nowadays?

In the past I’ve worked as a childcare worker at a treatment centre for youth at risk, and applied at the Police and Fire departments, but have settled into what is essentially a sales rep job with Corix Water Products. They’re a North American distributor of water and wastewater products like pipe, valves, fittings, and so on. I also own a tree cutting company called Wolverine Tree Services.

Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?

I still see Josh Ranek once or twice a year, we’re quite close. Mike Abou-Mechrek lives a few blocks away and I still chat with Dan Farthing and Dan Rashovich. I’m just starting to get involved with alumni associations and am looking forward to reconnecting with a lot of past teammates, many of whom I consider to be brothers.

Coach Kani Kauahi Ottawa Renegades. Photo Scott Grant

Thanks so much for your time Mike and all the best!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography and Google

#TBT: Reminiscing with Pat Fleming

By: Santino Filoso

Pat Flemming Ottawa Renegades 2003. Photo Scott Grant

Today’s interview features Ottawa native and former Renegades punter Pat Fleming. With 19,838 career punting yards to his credit, Pat averaged 41.7 yards per kick over the course of his five years in the CFL. The Renegades’ 2003 rookie of the year was selected by the Hamilton Ticats in the Renegades’ dispersal draft and finished his career with the Winnipeg Bombers.

As an Ottawa native, did you go to many Rough Rider games as a child?

My dad was a season ticket holder when I was growing up and still is today.  I went to a lot of the games with him and loved it. I have lots of memories growing up watching the Rough Riders and actually my 5th grade project was on the CFL and the Grey Cup.

Have you always been a punter or did you make the switch from another position at some point?

Growing up I played defensive back (DB) and free safety (FS).  When I went to college at Bowling Green I went as a safety and punter.  Once I earned a scholarship as the starting punter I knew my days playing DB were over.  That’s when I became strictly a punter. I started punting and kicking when I was 10 years old when my coach at the time asked us “Who can kick the ball?”.  I didn’t know I could until I tried it but I was the best on our team and realized I was blessed with the ability to kick the ball far. The rest is history.

The Renegades selected you in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft (11th overall), did you have any idea that they were interested in you?

None whatsoever, my mother heard it on the radio and she called me to let me know. At the time I still had a year left at Bowling Green.

How did it feel to spend three years playing for your hometown team?

It was amazing. There’s nothing like playing on the same field where you grew up watching Rough Rider greats and dreaming about being a professional football player. I enjoyed my time in Hamilton and Winnipeg, but nothing compares to playing in your home town, in front of friends and family. I loved my time in Ottawa.

On your first kick you ended up spraining your ankle and missing a few weeks, probably not how you imagined your debut going right?

Not at all, but luckily I had a good week in camp before that exhibition game so the coaching staff didn’t judge me on that punt, which wasn’t my best.  It happened so fast and I ended up missing the first five games due to that high ankle sprain.

Looking back on your time with the Renegades, what sticks with you the most?

That I got to play on the same field that Rough Riders like Orville Lee, Rohan Marley, Ken Evraire, Terry Baker, Damon Allen and Darren Joseph played on. It’s funny because when I was in the 5th grade Damon Allen came to my school and talked to my class, 15 years later I’m teammates with Darren Joseph and playing against Damon Allen. Talk about surreal.

I’m not sure if you’re aware but according to CFL.ca you’ve got a career QB rating of -414.6 for attempting two passes that were both picked off. Is that an accurate reflection of your QB skills?’

LOL. Despite being picked off I think both worked out okay. The first pass was a fake punt call in Montreal.  I rolled left and tried to throw the ball to the receiver but was picked off.  It ended up working out okay as it yielded us about 18 yards in field position. The second attempt wasn’t a called fake punt, but came off a bad snap. I knew I couldn’t get the punt off without it being blocked, so I took off and ran for the first down marker. Initially I saw the chains and thought I could make it, only to realize that I was looking at the beginning of the chains and still had another 10 yards to go with a DB barreling down on me.  I reacted quickly and threw towards a receiver, but was intercepted again. We still gained 25 yards so it wasn’t a total disaster.

As the punter you often end up as the last man between the returner and the end zone, what kind of things go through your mind when you know that you HAVE to make that open field tackle?

I loved it.  Growing up playing safety I enjoyed contact and wasn’t shy of hitting.  I always used to run down field quickly for two reasons.  One was to get involved in the action and make some tackles and the other was because the returners were faster than me. Tackling the extremely fast guys in the open field was very difficult, so by running down field I could contain them in the holes before they’d break free.

Could you share with our readers who might not know, why you changed your number from 48 to 28?

When I was drafted the coaches asked me if I wanted to keep my college number and I said yes. I ended up changing numbers because we ran a fake field goal where it was a direct snap to our kicker Lawrence Tynes.  I was the holder and ran down the line towards the right as Lawrence shovel passed me the ball.  It worked great and I gained 18 yards before being knocked out of bounds on the 3 yard line. Unfortunately it was called back on a flag for an “ineligible receiver”. Back then players with numbers in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s had to report to the ref before the play.  The coaching staff wasn’t aware and so the next day when I came to practice they told me my new number was 28 so that if we ever ran the fake again I’d actually be eligible.

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What was your favourite fake or trick play to run?

The one I just mentioned because it was my play. What I mean by that is that I came up with it in practice and the coaches actually ran it.

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Did you have any specific pre-game rituals or habits?

I’d always go for a walk about 4-5 hours before the game, come back and eat my pre-game meal.

What’s worse to kick in, rain or extreme cold? 

Cold is hard because your hands get so dry and slick that the ball slips out of your hands. You end up constantly licking them to get some tack on them. Rain isn’t much fun either, but the ball boys usually do a good job keeping the balls dry. I always thought the worst were games in late October/early November where it was both cold and rainy.

Hang time > directional kicking?

I played college ball in the States so hang time was a big deal.  I loved punting for hang time.  I was blessed with a strong leg so I was able to get great air under the ball. I struggled with directional kicking throughout my career because I never actually had to do it in college. I always preferred punting for hang time as it was more natural for me.

Pat Fleming Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Just how hard is it to angle a kick to a certain point on the field?

It’s hard because there are factors that people don’t think of such as the snap, blocking protection, wind, the rushers barreling at you and your steps have to be exact. In most CFL stadiums the wind swirls so the direction you see the flags moving on the field isn’t always accurate.

Is there one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize?

How athletic you need to be.  Kickers and punters for the most part have to be athletic and not just able to kick a ball.  Most kickers and punters in the CFL/NFL were great athletes growing up and played multiple position in high school.

Are you a fan of the rouge or is there some merit to the argument that it rewards failure? 

I don’t think it rewards failure and it’s been part of our game for so long so I say keep it. Plus it’s one of those things that makes our game different from the NFL.

Since you retired what have you been doing for work?

I’m a licensed kinesiologist and the owner of Fleming Fitness. We’re a team of certified trainers and kinesiologists that specialize in injury rehab. We’re mobile, so we go into people’s homes and help them get set up on an exercise program designed for their needs.

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Have you ever given any thought to coaching?

Nah,  I try and help out kids as much as I can as a guest coach. That’s the extent of my coaching career.

Last year the Redblacks struggled to a 2-16 record, what do they need to address this off-season to ensure they improve next season?

First off, I think we were better than our record showed.  We competed in a lot of games and lost some really tough, close games.  Our defense was great.  The offense struggled a bit, but with our new additions to OL and WR I think we’ll be better.  Adding Jason Maas as the Offensive Coordinator was a great addition as well.  He had a great CFL career as a player and it seems to be translating over into his coaching career.  We were teammates in 2006 in Hamilton and he was one of the hardest working guys on the team by far. In terms of special teams I think Maher did a good job punting and kicking.

Thanks for your time and best of luck in your future endeavours!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant

#TBT: An Interview with Stephen Jones

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we catch up with Stephen Jones, one of the best WRs to ever suit up for an Ottawa CFL team. During the course of his stellar 10 year career, Jones played for Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Ottawa, was a two-time CFL All-Star, three time CFL East All-Star and won a Grey Cup with Edmonton Eskimos in 1987. Jones made 51 career TD grabs and sits 2nd on Ottawa’s career reception list with 278 catches to his credit, trailing only Tony Gabriel.

Originally you played QB in college. When did you make the transition to receiver and just how difficult was it?

The first time I played receiver was my senior year in university. It was tough at first but at the university level I did well because of my athletic ability. 

What was your initial impression of Ottawa when you first came to the city in 1990?

I loved Ottawa long before I signed with the team in 1990. The first time I came to this city was in 1985 or 1986 and it was definitely the most beautiful city I’d seen in all my travels. I knew then, that Ottawa was a place where I would like to live out my life.

In 1992, you racked up 254 receiving yards in a single game vs the Argos, what do you remember about that day?

It was the season opener and “The Rocket” (Raghib Ismail) was coming to town but my teammates and I showed off and stole his spotlight. There were a lot of great plays but two in particular come to mind. The first was a catch that Jock Climie made while lying on his back. The other was a seven yard pass that I dropped that would have given me the record for most yards in one game.

During your time in Ottawa, the team went through a number of uniform and logo changes. Is there any jersey that you really liked or disliked and what logo did you prefer?

Without any question, the all black uniform with the “R” was my all time favorite.  I loved playing in that uniform.

Stephan Jones Ottawa Rough Riders 1991. Photo F. Scott Grant

What was your favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

I really loved playing in BC Place because the track was fast and the weather was always great.  Ottawa and Hamilton were tied for next best stadiums due to the close proximity of the stands to the players.

Statistically speaking, the three best years of your career happened in Ottawa. How did you manage to take your game to another level during your time with the Rough Riders?

The ability to stay healthy was a key component. The fact that Ottawa’s turf was hard and fast was a great help.

In 1995 you went from playing for the Rough Riders to marketing and coaching with them. Tell us how that came about and what you most enjoyed about that experience.

That was a tough time for me as well as all the Ottawa fans.  There was nothing pleasant about my playing career being cut short and I was trying to find a positive side to my career ending before it should have. It gave me valuable experience in dealing with the business community.

 Throughout the course of your career you had the opportunity to catch passes from a number of QBs. Who were some of your favourites?

Without a doubt it was Matt Dunnigan, followed by Damon Allen and Tom Burgess.  Matt threw the best deep pass in all of football, no one was better.  Tom Burgess was such a fighter and a winner and Damon turned out to be the greatest QB of all time in the CFL.

You were on the receiving end of a number of big hits, who hit the hardest?

A guy nicknamed “Pipes”  (Bobby Dawson), he would lay you out.

Were you a superstitious player?

Not at all but I was a bit crazy.

What was the most disappointing loss of your career?

Nothing was as crushing as the ’92 Ottawa playoff game in Hamilton.  The Rough Riders were winning by two touchdowns with three minutes left in the game and we somehow managed to lose.

This is a two part question. I’ve heard that you are a great singer. What is your go-to karaoke song and would you ever consider singing the national anthem at TD Place?

It’s been a while as far as singing goes, and over the years I have lost my voice.  If I had to pick a song to sing it would be “Baby Stay With Me”  by Jeffery Osborn. And I would decline the offer to sing the national anthem, if I was asked.

Every player has a nickname or two – what was yours?

Step Toe

Looking back on your 10 years in the CFL, what are you most proud of?

Being on a team that won the Grey Cup.

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In 1987 Jones was the Eskimo’s 2nd leading pass receiving with 55 catches for 1147 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also had 51 kickoff returns for 957 yards

 

Why did you choose to settle down in Ottawa after your playing career finished?

I love the city, the people are wonderful and the fishing is great.  It’s the perfect place to raise a family.

Since you retired, what have you been doing for work?

I’ve been in the security business and I’ve met a lot of terrific people.

Which current CFL wide receiver is your favourite to watch?

It is hard to pick one as they move around so much in the league, but I like Chad Owens, Emmanuel Arceneaux, and the receivers in Montreal. It looks like Ottawa just picked up a few good ones too.

If you could give young receivers a single piece of advice, what would it be?

Forget about how you look when going after a ball and that you don’t always have to use your hands. Just catch it however you can and never let the ball hit the ground.

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Check out Jones following his advice, again and again and again and again and again

 Have you made it out to any Redblacks games?

Of course, I’m a season ticket holder and I’m thrilled that CFL is back in Ottawa.

Thank you so much for your time and all the amazing catches you made while in Ottawa. You were easily one of the most entertaining players R-Nation has had the pleasure of watching wear the R.

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant

#TBT: Looking back with Marc Parenteau

By: Santino Filoso

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In today’s Throwback Thursday Interview we sit down with offensive lineman Marc Parenteau. Drafted by the Renegades in 2003, Marc went on to play for Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Toronto during the course of his 9 year career, winning two Grey Cups (in 2007 and 2012) along the way.

RR: After being drafted by the Renegades with the 36th pick in 2003, you didn’t get to start a game until 2005, how frustrating was that experience?

MP: I actually decided not pursue any NFL or CFL options after my collegiate career at Boston College. I’d played a lot of football since I managed to avoid being redshirted and played every game for four years, going to four straight Bowl games and earning All-Star nods my final two years. I felt that my football career was full and I was content to leave it there, so after college I accepted a job with a private company. At the time I was also coaching at Bishop’s University and while there I got the “itch” to play back and decided to try and make a comeback in 2005. I was fortunate enough to make the Renegades after a two year hiatus.

When you think back to your time with Ottawa, what sticks with you the most?

The city and fans were so great, all they wanted was a well managed team that could compete in the league.  I never would have left if they hadn’t folded.

On the line of scrimmage pretty much anything goes if the ref doesn’t notice. What were some of your favourite tricks or techniques that you used to give yourself an edge that might not have always been legal?

Holding hahaha!  I didn’t cheapshot opponents but if I got my hands on you I was going to hold you until that whistle blew.

Who was the most ferocious defender you where ever matched up against?

Adriano Belli, I always knew it was going to be a tough game when I played him

Describe the feeling you got as an lineman when you pulled on a sweep and got to take a 15 yard run at a DB.

I felt scared! Mostly because as a lineman you know the DBs are quicker than you and that they would do anything to avoid contact. You always knew you might totally miss them and get ridiculed by fellow offensive lineman in meetings the next day.

Did you have any pre-game superstitious?

I did early in my career.  Ranging from what I would eat, to the order of how I got ready to the drills I did pre-game on the field.  I got away from those at the end of my career and took a bit of a more relaxed approach.

Offensive linemen pride themselves on ignoring the elements and always wearing short sleeves. Did you ever cave and cover up your arms?

Now and then in practice but never in games.

Mike Abou-Mechrek told me that you were the funniest guy he’s ever played with. What kind of things did you do to keep the mood light at practice or during games?

Oh Mike! I would hide people’s stuff in the locker room, make jokes pre-game or even sometimes in the huddle between plays. Sometimes when they’d put up the 50/50 draw on the scoreboard and I’d stop everyone in the huddle to show them.

What was the most memorable prank you ever involved in?

Too many to name and some of those are top secret since they still don’t know it was me.  Let’s just say some players were sent “seat belt extenders” on plane trips by flight attendants in front of everyone. Also if a rookie acted out he may have found his stuff frozen in a big ball in the ice machine the next day.

Which fan base has the best hecklers?

I’d say it’s a tie between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg.

On the field did you talk a lot of trash or were you more of the silent type?

Mostly silent but I had the occasional game where I was lippy.

In terms of style, what was your favourite jersey to wear?

Anything that fit properly hahaha.

Why #57?

I was #73 in high school and college but OL can’t wear numbers in 70s in the CFL. I settled on #57 because I liked the look of it.

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Which Grey Cup win was more satisfying, 2007 or 2012?

That’s an unfair question, that’s like picking a favourite son! They’re both very special to me for various reasons.

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CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

You are the only lineman in CFL history to ever score a touchdown in a Grey Cup (2010), talk us through that play.

It was originally put into the game plan two weeks earlier and even though we didn’t use it we left it in the goal line package. When the call game in during the Grey Cup I couldn’t believe it and was even more in shock that it was actually thrown to me. It’s an awesome memory and still without a doubt the best celebration in CFL history. When the play started I knew I really had to make it look like a run and once I cleared the line I didn’t see anyone within 10 yards of me. Glory followed.

 

As a Sherbooke native, which CIS team do you cheer for?

I actually moved to Florida when I was 12 years old so I never followed any CIS team.

Why did you choose to settle in Ottawa after you finished your CFL career?

I would have never left if it was up to me.  Even when they announced they were bringing a team back I patiently waited hoping to get a chance to play for it, but it kept getting delayed and then I was at the end of my career.  Ottawa is such a beautiful city and the perfect place for my real estate business. I wouldn`t want to be anywhere else

Finish the sentence. Every tourist coming to Ottawa should…..

Visit the Byward Market. It’s close to Parliament Hill and there’s tons of activities to do

Have you made it out to any Redblacks games? 

I made it to the opener and it was a great game! I have a bunch of friends who play on the team.

North Side or South Side?

No comment

Thanks so much for your time Marc and I look forward to seeing you at more Redblacks’ games in 2015!

@RedBlackGade

*All images via Marc’s collection

Redblacks Waste No Time In Improving

By: Santino Filoso

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Just over 24 hours into free agency and the Redblacks off-season can already be declared a smashing success. Ottawa had some major roster holes to fill following a disappointing 2-16 season and four key signings by GM Marcel Desjardins should go a long way to reassure R-Nation that 2015 will indeed be a much better year on the field for the Redblacks.

The process of overhauling the offence began with the firing of Mike Gibson and the hiring of Jason Maas to replace him, along with a trade that sent LB Jasper Simmons, the Redblacks 2014 MOP (Most Outstanding Player) to Calgary for established veteran WR Maurice Price. The offensive retooling continued yesterday with the signings of a trio of 6 foot plus WRs; Ernest Jackson (International), Brad Sinopoli (National) and Greg Ellingson (International).

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“Once the ball goes up in the air, I’m going to go up and get it,” – Ernest Jackson

The 28 year old, 6’2”, 220 pound Jackson spent the last three season with the BC Lions and had a break out season in 2014, catching 49 passes for 813 yards, 3 TDs, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. The Redblacks got a good look at Jackson up close and personal in Week 16 when he torched Ottawa’s secondary for 195 yards and a TD in the Lions 41-3 blow out win.

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Hmmm, a Canadian QB in Ottawa wearing 12 eh…

R-Nation is already quite familiar with Brad Sinopoli as the 26 year old Peterborough native played QB at the University of Ottawa, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding CIS football player in 2010. After being drafted by the Stampeders in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons as their 3rd string quarterback before making the difficult transition from QB to WR. Last year the 6’4”, 215 pound Sinopoli started 12 games for Calgary, making 20 catches for 197 yards and scoring 2 TDs.

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Before being injured in 2013, Ellingson was in conversation for CFL Rookie of the Year

QB Henry Burris should already have some level of familiarity with the 6’3”, 197 pound Greg Ellingson as they spent the 2013 season together playing with the Ticats. Ellingson was buried on Hamilton’s depth chart after struggling with injuries for much of the last two seasons, but despite missing time last year, Ellingson still managed decent numbers, making 32 catches for 429 yards.

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SirVincent Rogers, I knight thee a defender of the R

Not only will the Redblacks now have better players on the receiving end of passes, but the guys throwing them the ball should have more time too, thanks to the addition of the 6’4”, 319 pound SirVincent Rogers. With a pedigree almost as interesting as his name, Rogers spent the last two years protecting Ricky Ray’s blind side. Before coming up to the CFL, Rogers spent 2012 in the AFL, winning the AFL championship and playing offensive line and tight end for the Arizona Rattlers. As a TE he made 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs so maybe when Jason Maas digs into his bag of trick plays we’ll see SirVincent catching some passes at TD Place.

In 2014 the Redblacks had over 45 dropped passes and many were drive and momentum killers. With the addition of Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson through free agency and the acquiring of Price through trade, Ottawa’s receiving corps has seemingly gone from a glaring weakness to a strength. New OL Coach Bryan Chiu now has an extremely large and talented Rogers to work with and their familiarity from their time together in Toronto with the Argos is an added benefit. When you factor in that most of the top prospects in the CFL draft are offensive lineman and that Ottawa holds the #1 overall pick, the two positions that the Redblacks really couldn’t count on last season suddenly look much better.

On another level, as a Redblacks fan you can’t help but smile seeing Desjardins come out of the gate swinging. His aggressiveness in pursuing free agents and improving the team is one that many Ottawa Senators fans wished their GM would show. The contrast between Jeff Hunt and OSEG’s commitment to fielding a winning and competitive team is never more evident than when one looks at the Sens and Eugene Melynk’s cheap ways.

At this point in time I don’t see the Redblacks making any more big signings, other than perhaps a few depth guys, maybe at QB, RB or LB. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa officially lost one of their own free agents when OL Alex “Truckstick” Krausnick signed the Eskimos. One year after being selected by the Redblacks in their expansion draft, Krausnick wasted no time in returning to Edmonton.

Let us know what you think about the Redblacks free agency moves so far in the comments below.

@RedBlackGade

The 2002 Renegades vs the 2014 Redblacks (A statistical look)

By: Santino Filoso

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Don’t think too hard Paopao!

The middle of the CFL’s off-seaosn is the perfect time to see how the 2002 Renegades season stacks up against the 2014 Redblacks inaugural year. Though the Renegades eked out two more wins, there’s an argument to be made that the Redblacks had the more entertaining first year.

Ottawa Renegades new uniforms. Photo F. Scott Grant

Game #1:

Renegades lose at home against Saskatchewan, falling 30-27 in OT

Redblacks lose in Winnipeg 36-28

Game #2:

Renegades lose in Edmonton 40-24

Redblacks lose in Edmonton 27-11

Game #3 

Renegades win at home vs Winnipeg 25-24

Redblacks win at home vs Toronto 18-17

Game #4 

Renegades lose in Winnipeg 55-7

Redblacks lose in Hamilton 33-23

Game #5 

Renegades win at home vs Hamilton 38-37

Redblacks lose at home to Saskatchewan 38-14

Game #6 

Renegades lose in Toronto 24-8

Redblacks lose in Calgary 38-17

Game #7 

Renegades lose at home to Montreal 29-6

Redblacks lose at home to Edmonton 10-8

Game #8

Renegades lose in BC 22-18

Redblacks lose at home to Calgary 32-7

Game #9 

Renegades lose in Hamilton 30-9

Redblacks lose in Montreal 20-10

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Game #10 

Renegades lose at home to BC 28-4

Redblacks lose at home to BC 7-5

Game #11 

Renegades lose at home to Toronto 30-25

Redblacks lose in Saskatchewan 35-32 in double OT

Game #12 

Renegades win in Calgary 26-12

Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 15-7

Game #13 

Renegades lose at home to Calgary 26-22 in OT

Redblacks win at home vs Bombers 42 – 20

Game #14 

Renegades lose in Saskatchewan 29-11

Redblacks lose in BC 41 – 3

Game #15 

Renegades lose at home to Edmonton 37-34

Redblacks lose in Hamilton 16-6

Game #16 

Renegades lose in Toronto 29-12

Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 23-17

Game #17 

Renegades lose at home to Montreal 43-34

Redblacks lose at home to Hamilton 34-25

Game #18 

Renegades win in Montreal 26-25

Redblacks lose in Toronto 23-5

Final records:

The Renegades went 4-14 with 356 Points For and 550 Points Against equaling a difference of -194 points

The Redblacks went 2-16 with 278 Points For and 465 Points Against equaling a difference of -187 points

Quick Takeaways:

The Renegades averaged 19.7 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 10 games, and more than 30 in three

The Redblacks averaged 15.4 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 5 games, more than 30 once, and more than 40 once

The Renegades gave up 30.5 points a game to the Redblacks 25.8 points per game and were *blown out seven times to the Redblacks five

*In this case I counted a blowout as losing by more than 14 points

Individual Stat Leaders:

QBs:

CROWLEY

Dan Crowley threw for 2697 yards with 16 TDs, 19 INTs and a 49.1% completion rate

vs

Henry Burris throwing for 3728 yards with 11 TDs, 14 INTs and a 60.9% completion rate

RBs:

Josh Ranek Ottawa Renegades 2005. Photo F. Scott Grant

Josh Ranek rushed for 689 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 5.4 yards per carry

vs

Chevon Walker rushing for 458 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 4.5 yards per carry

WRs:

Jimmy Oliver made 82 catches for 1004 yards and 6 TDs

vs

Marcus Henry making 67 catches for 824 yards and 2 TDs

Marcus+Henry+Saskatchewan+Roughriders+v+Ottawa+_FK3ZIouEIrl

Defense (tackles):

Kelly Wiltshire made 86 tackles vs Jasper Simmons making 80

Picks:

Gerald Vaughn made 3 INTs vs Brandyn Thompson making 4

Sacks:

Jerome Haywood had 6 sacks vs Justin Capicciotti having 11

longarms

Special Teams Tackles:

John Grace made 16 vs Jason Pottinger making 13

John Grace Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Awards:

Renegades: LB John Grace, CFL All-Star

Redblacks: None

Attendance:

Renegades: 0 sellouts with an average crowd of 23,773

Redblacks: 9 sellouts with an average crowd of 24,500

Have your say:

@RedBlackGade

– All stats via CFL.ca and images via Scott Grant Photography