Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – Episode 9

Jeff discusses the start of the 2019 USports football season and the outlook for the Carleton Ravens. He also talks brotherly love in Ottawa’s CFL history. Fittingly, this week’s guest is former Raven and current Ottawa Redblacks DL Kene Onyeka, whose brother Godfrey is a DB in Edmonton and cousin Nakas a LB for Toronto.

Listen here: https://m.soundcloud.com/carletonravensfootball/carleton-ravens-football-podcast-2019-08-11

Follow us on Twitter -> @DefendTheR

(Photo credit: goravens.ca)

Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – Episode 8

Jeff is joined by Harrison Brown, co-founder & CEO of HeadCheck Health, a mobile and web-based platform for concussion protocol, care and analysis. HeadCheck has recently become an official partner of the CFL, equipping team medical staffs with their concussion toolset.

Listen here: https://m.soundcloud.com/carletonravensfootball/carleton-ravens-football-podcast-2019-08-01

Follow us on Twitter -> @DefendTheR

(Photo credit: The Co-operators/The Canadian Press)

Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – Episode 4

With the Canadian Football League draft around the corner, host Jeff Morris is joined by Carleton Ravens football head coach Steve Sumarah to discuss, among other things, the great success his program has had in producing CFL draft picks – a total 11 since 2013.

Jeff provides us with a little bit (read: a lot) of history on the CFL draft, including some of Carleton & Ottawa U’s most memorable draft picks.

For those keeping score, the current standings for total number of players drafted sits at:

Ottawa U – 104
Carleton – 73

Jeff and Steve also discuss the East-West Bowl, a showcase of USports players eligible for the 2020 CFL draft, which takes place at Carleton’s MNP Park on May 11 @12:30pm. Get your tickets here.

This week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’ looks at the four best Carleton Ravens football coaches to be drafted into the CFL.

Listen on SoundCloud here:

Or here:

https://m.soundcloud.com/carletonravensfootball/carleton-ravens-football-podcast-2019-04-20

Thanks for listening!

Follow us on Twitter -> @DefendTheR

(Photo credit: Valerie Wutti, goravens.ca)

Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – Episode 3

In the third episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast, we hear from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Carleton Ravens Football Dinner on April 5th, 2019. In a visionary (and pretty darn inspiring) address, Ambrosie not only speaks about growing the league internationally and creating new opportunities for Canadians to play abroad, but also how to “take back” the narrative and start growing the sport locally. Definitely worth a listen.

In this week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’, Jeff gives us the best two-sport athletes to have played for the Ottawa Rough Riders/Renegades/Redblacks. Tons of fascinating Ottawa sports history in this segment.

Listen here:

Or here:

https://m.soundcloud.com/carletonravensfootball/carleton-ravens-football-podcast-2019-04-07

Thanks for listening!

Follow us on Twitter -> @DefendTheR

(Photo credit: OttawaRedblacks.com)

The Social: Chatting with the man behind @Redblacks, Tyler Rabb

As has become pretty much an annual affair, we sat down with the man behind @Redblacks recently for a chat. Tyler Rabb is OSEG’s “Growth Hacker” (his official title), taking over from Mat Smith, who moved on following last year’s Grey Cup. Tyler shared a bit about himself, his road to a communications/social media career in sports and experiences behind the scenes with the Redblacks. 

Enjoy.

@DefendTheR: Let’s start with your background. From Ottawa originally?

@tylerjrabb: My younger years were somewhat divided between a few small towns around Ottawa. My family eventually moved into the “big city” just in time for me to start high school. Looking back it was nice to have the opportunity to experience both lifestyles.

Once in Ottawa, I played football with the Canterbury Mustangs (NCAFA) and rugby at Hillcrest High School.

After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to travel and took some random jobs along the way, including: tree planter in northern Ontario, cook at an oil sands camp in Alberta, and bartender at various establishments around Ottawa.

At 25, I finally found something that caught my attention: Advertising. I was intrigued by the creative side of the industry, as writing had always been a strength of mine.

I graduated from Algonquin College with an advanced diploma in Advertising and Marketing Communications Management. 

“”

When and how did you end up with OSEG?

Throughout my time at Algonquin, I realized I wanted to become a content creator in the sports world. The final part of completing my program was a six-week internship, and it was sports or nothing for me. Little did my professors know, I only applied to two organizations; the Ottawa Senators and OSEG. The internship at OSEG turned out to be the perfect opportunity, as it’s main role was to create content for all our teams’ (Ottawa Fury FC, Ottawa 67’s, and REDBLACKS) websites.

My six-week internship turned into a six-month contract, which turned into a full-time career in October 2015. 

I owe a lot to Will Renaud and Mat Smith. The latter you know very well. The former, OSEG’s web guru (unofficial title), gave me the internship and was instrumental in my contract and full-time hire. They’ve both taught me many valuable skills that continue to serve me well. Just before Mat left OSEG in December, he handed me the keys to the REDBLACKS social channels. They were and continue to be huge shoes to fill, though Mat’s creativity and work ethic inspire me to get better everyday.

“”

Not only am I entrusted with our social channels, but I also manage web content and contribute to email communications for all of OSEG’s properties.

What is your history as a CFL fan? Any favourite moments?

I wasn’t a big CFL fan growing up, though I remember attending an Ottawa Renegades game with my dad in the early 2000s. The rowdy crowd and exciting game action was infectious and created an interest in football and the league. I still have trading cards of Kerry Joseph, Josh Ranek and Pat Woodcock.

Biggest surprise working for a professional sports franchise?

The athletes. Don’t want to sound like a “fanboy”, but growing up you idolize them. You play them in video games, hang their posters on your wall, memorize their stats. Working with them every day though, you realize they really are just people like you and me.

Give us a couple of highlights from your tenure so far at OSEG – on-field or off.

Winning the Grey Cup last November has to top the list. I was right alongside Mat on the bench at BMO Field when we took down the Stamps in OT. Being on the field and in that locker room afterwards with the champagne and cigars still seems so surreal. That entire week in Toronto, from flying in to flying out with the team is a time I won’t ever forget.

Traveling to Edmonton this July was another great experience. I had dinner with the team and everyone had to introduce themselves and divulge one fun fact. Ryan Lindley revealed he was taking French lessons from JP Bolduc and after a quick demonstration of his surprising skill, the entire room filled with laughter.

Any lowlights you want to mention?

The ties. I always thought draws were a rarity in pro football, though I’ve experienced two in my two years with the team. Both versus Calgary and both at home openers (2016, 2017). They leave a bad taste in your mouth, but I guess they have been an integral part of building a rivalry with the Stampeders.

Tell us about the OSEG social media strategy. 


The five key principles at the heart of our social media strategy are:

  • Being human
  • Engaging
  • Accessible
  • Establishing relationships
  • Being timely

Mat crafted these pillars to create a strong sense of community on our social channels and we as a team continue to live by them. We know RNation is the reason we’re so successful and we want them to feel appreciated, involved and excited to be a part of this community.

How do you personally approach it?

My outlook has always been that content is king. Without great content who cares? It needs to be in context, engaging and timely.

I’m also not afraid to be edgy. I like to banter with other teams, sometimes in other leagues. If I see an opportunity to create a conversation I usually pounce.

“”

Engaging with RNation and showing them the appreciation they deserve is another focus of mine. Their continued support through the good times and the bad make my job the best in the league.

QB Clubs and player Q&As seem to be very prevalent this year. What are some of your favourite initiatives? Anything fun on the horizon?

I’m always looking to create more genuine fan experiences. Our players love interacting with fans in person and through different social media. Bringing those two sides together is an amazing feeling and creates lasting memories for both fans and players.

I love impromptu content. The team is filled with characters and I want the fans to see that side of every player in our locker room. Stay tuned for the story of Bud Ball…

Biggest surprise being around the players and/or on the sidelines?

How much trash talk actually happens. Even some of the league’s biggest stars participate and it can get nasty.

Your favourite element/area of TD Place?

Has to be the field. Walking across it after a game still gives me chills, whether it be with all the fans under the lights or pitch black with no one else in sight.

Adidas took over as uniform manufacturer last year. Should we expect to see any 3rd/retro/heritage stuff this season?

Not that I’ve heard, unfortunately. I was a big fan of the proposed plaid helmets though. Fingers crossed something like that comes along again.

“”

Oh, what might have been. Lol. 

Favourite visiting stadium you’ve been to?

This one’s tough, as I haven’t visited Calgary, Saskatchewan, or BC yet. So my choice would have to be Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. My first and only visit was for the 2015 Grey Cup. I volunteered to be Big Joe’s handler at the game and that turned out to be quite the experience.

Love the new #RNation Twitter emoji. How did that come about? Who decided on the wood cookie?

The #RNation emoji came about as a league-wide initiative. I was a part of the team that chose the wood cookie for the Redblacks. We thought it would be the perfect addition to the RNation hashtag, as we wanted to bring this essential part of our game day experience to the Twitterverse.

“”

Had a chance to play the new CFL Frenzy game? How do you like it? How do you think it benefits the league?

I really like the CFL Frenzy game. I think from a marketing standpoint it’s a great endeavour by the league. It allows our fans to experience the game via a completely different medium. Instead of a passively watching the on-field action, they get to control the show. 

“”

Making it mobile-only is another brilliant move. If it becomes extremely successful, maybe it can make to the jump to home gaming systems. It also attracts football fans that may not be familiar with the CFL. The average gamer has most likely only played NFL or NCAA football in the past. And I haven’t heard anything but positivity from the players. Who wouldn’t love becoming part of video game? I know I would!

Advice to anyone wanting to get into pro sports?

Find a way in and don’t stop working. Volunteer, intern, whatever you have to do. Just keep knockin’ at that door. No job is too small. From putting up posters in the restrooms to sorting through our photo archives, I’ve had many responsibilities at OSEG and every one is just as important as the next.

Anything else you want to share with Redblacks fans?

First off I’d like to thank RNation. Working with such a great fan base every day makes my job one of the best in sports. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, please feel free to let us know at @REDBLACKS or @tylerjrabb.

Secondly, I’ve talked a lot about myself here, but obviously I get to work with a very talented group of people behind the scenes. Other members of our marketing team, our video production team, and our content and communications team all contribute to our social media in incredible ways. 

Thanks for your time and all the work you do to bring #RNation closer to the team, Tyler!

Thanks for reading!

Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR

The Social: Checking in with Mat Smith

Over the first three years of the Ottawa Redblacks existence, the man behind Redblacks social media – Mat Smith – was always generous with his time for us (2014 interview here, 2016 here) and the #RNation fanbase. Mat moved on from OSEG following the 2016 season to start Harbourfront Media. We caught up to reminisce and look at what’s ahead.

@DefendTheR: Suffice to say it has been a big year for you since last we spoke. Catch us up on what went on with you since last summer – both professionally and personally.

@smith_mat: It’s been a big year, and a bit of whirlwind, to be honest. In my professional life I was lucky enough to win a Grey Cup, launch a business, and take a dive into politics. The real highlight of the past year, however, was getting to marry my best friend, Kadie Smith. We had a small, intimate ceremony on the beach in Victoria, BC. It was definitely a day I’ll never forget. 

Being part of a Grey Cup champion has got to be something special. Can you share a personal story or two from Grey Cup Week that stood out for you?

Knowing this would be my last year with the team, I definitely made an effort to stop and take it all in more than I did in 2015.

Besides the obvious – the locker room celebrations, seeing Hank run out onto the field after being hurt in warmup, Grey Cup parade in Ottawa, etc., there are a few other moments that stand out to me.

Call me crazy, but I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew we were going to win the Grey Cup. It was our last full practice and Juron Criner made the best catch I’ve ever seen in person. The mood to that point had been positive and upbeat, but it went to another level after that catch. The catch seemed to spark everyone on the team and eliminated any doubts that may have been lingering. I left the practice facility with chills running down my spine after seeing the players so hyped. The high stayed with the team until after we had won. It was special.

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Another memorable moment was post-game following Henry’s media availability. I was heading out with Kadie to take our photo at midfield (something we never got to do in 2015). The stadium was completely empty – we were the only ones on the field – until I noticed Hank, followed by a scrum of photographers, walking out from the other side. He was still in his uniform and was wearing the biggest smile I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something). He broke the silence (like only Hank can) by yelling “I see y’all holding hands!”. As he got closer, we all paused and gave each other the “did that just really happen” look. Then he gave us a big hug, said “we did it!” and headed back into the locker room to join his family. Having that kind of quiet moment amidst the crazy post-game celebrations is something I’ll never forget.

Finally, after we finally left the stadium at about midnight, before heading to the team party, Kadie and I went to Earl’s for a celebratory glass of Lagavulin. She bought me one after we lost in 2015 and it’s become our go-to drink for important occasions ever since. Sharing that moment with her was pretty special.

Winning a championship in just three short years is something pretty darn special. Other than making sure you captured as much great #content as possible, what were you feeling as the game ended?

Haha, you know it’s always about #content. As the game ended I felt happiness, relief, excitement, a massive rush of adrenaline, and probably a million other emotions. Luckily I had my co-worker Tyler with me on the sidelines, as well as a video crew, so we all alternated celebrating and capturing content. It worked out well and everyone got to enjoy the moment. 

Did you get a ring?

Yes, I did! I actually just got it a couple days ago! OSEG was very generous and I can’t thank them enough for making the staff feel valued and part of the team. It’s something I’ll cherish forever.


Beauty!

Obviously the decision to move on from OSEG had to be a tough one. What would you say is your biggest takeaway (other than the ring) from working with the Redblacks?

The decision to leave was very bittersweet, but it was time to move on. My biggest takeaway? That’s easy. It was the opportunity to travel the country, work with players, visit stadiums, and experience what the CFL truly means to Canada. The league, the players, the fans, the stadiums – they’re all sewn into the Canadian fabric. To me, the best stories are those that transcend sport, and I got to witness/be part of a lot of them in my three years in the league.

Looking back at your three years, is there something you were able to capture or an initiative you spearheaded that you’re most proud of?

I can’t pick one thing, but I’m most proud to see what the #RNation community has become. The return of football to Ottawa was an incredible story and I just wanted to capture every moment the best I could – from the name and logo unveil, all the way to the Grey Cup parade down Bank Street. I consider myself very lucky to have been part of it. 

What’s your hope/outlook for the Redblacks organization over the next 3-5 years?

Obviously I hope they have continued success both on and off the field. I think the organization has set themselves up to do just that (despite their current record). The fan base is young and engaged, the stadium is beautiful, and both the business and football ops staff see the bigger picture. I’m really excited to see the Grey Cup here in November. It’s going to be awesome. 

Now that you’re experiencing the Redblacks as a fan, have you made it to the Brewer Park tailgate yet?

I haven’t yet, but will definitely make an effort to before the season ends. My parents have been and say it’s a lot of fun.

What was the impetus for your new venture? What is the hole in the marketplace that you are filling?

The timing was right and Kadie and I had a mutual desire to start something of our own. From there, Harbourfront Media was born! We both love telling stories and have a good understanding and feel for the social media space. Our focus is on using strong engagement and meaningful content to produce brand strategies that help tell a story and create a connection between the brand and their audience. 

At the moment we’re working with various-sized clients, but I think our real end-goal is to work with small and medium-sized businesses to create and implement social/content strategies, then help set up their internal team for success down the road. 

Harbourfront Media is looking after the CFL’s official Grey Cup Festival account, @GreyCupFestival. What is the goal/plan for this year?

Our goal to to make this year’s Festival account the most accessible, fun, engaging, and content-focused it has ever been. We really want to highlight the festival themes of inclusiveness, Canadiana, grassroots, Canada 150, and #OurNation. We basically want to act as a virtual concierge that also produces meaningful content to tell the story of the Grey Cup Festival. The idea is to take the key learnings from our combined time at the Redblacks, Argos and Lions, and apply them to the Festival accounts. 

What’s the next big thing in social media? 

Live video. Location marketing. Influencer marketing. Also keep an eye out for brands utilizing messaging services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. 

Who is looking after @Redblacks these days? What were your parting words of wisdom for him/her?

It’s a combination of very talented folks, but Tyler Rabb is mostly running point on Redblacks social this season. 

I left the team a “Guide to the Galaxy’ type legacy document with all the nerdy social media stuff, but really I just stressed the importance of the following things:

  • Humanize the players
  • Eliminate barriers between fans and players
  • Be accessible and engaging
  • Take risks
  • Capture the moment
  • Tell a meaningful story

I also said to have fun and enjoy the ride. There’s only eight other people in Canada who have this job, so consider yourself lucky. 

On behalf of Redblacks fans everywhere, I want to thank you for all your work and dedication to bringing us closer to our team. You really understand what #RNation means and made sure every fan felt included. Great job.

That means a lot to me. I really appreciate the kind words. I’m glad I could play a small part in bringing football back to the nation’s capital. I loved every moment of it.

Follow Mat on Twitter at @smith_mat.

Check out Harbourfront Media on Twitter at @HBFMedia.

Thanks for reading!

Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR

The @20YardEndZone Podcast – Episode 4

The 20-Yard End Zone Podcast – Episode 4

The guys talk Khalif Mitchell, the CFL’s West division, the CFL draft, synthetic turf, the XFL and more! We’re also very pleased to be joined by UBC head coach Blake Nill who talked a bit about his #1-ranked Thunderbirds heading into the CIS football season.

Thanks for listening!

@DefendTheR

#TBT: Looking back with Pat Woodcock

By: Santino Filoso

woodcock1

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.

woodcock3

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

Mike Vilimek

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.

Mike Vilimek2

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.

COC05 0728 football2.jpg-1

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.

Mike Vilimek3

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