#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.

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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

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#TBT: An Interview with Stephen Jones

By: Santino Filoso

stephenjones

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: Catching Up With Korey Banks

By: Santino Filoso

kb4

For this week’s Throwback Thursday interview, I chatted with former Ottawa Renegade DB Korey Banks. Banks, an eight time CFL All Star, racked up 37 career interceptions, 22 sacks, 14 fumbles, 442 tackles, 7 touchdowns and two Grey Cup rings.

RR: As an American coming to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?

KB: It was unreal. It was my first time out of country and I was so excited. I entered the league in 2004 after being cut from the NFL. At first I hated living in a hotel without a vehicle and not really making any money, but I loved the atmosphere, vibe and people in the city. Ottawa was great to me man, I loved everything about it.

In 2005, your second year in the league, you quickly became a fan favourite, leading the league with 10 interceptions. How were you so successful so early in your career?

I actually predicted I’d get 10 picks in pre-season interview. My confidence was high because I knew I almost made it in the NFL and that as a young guy they’d throw the ball at me to test me. By the time QBs knew I could play, I already had 7 or 8 picks. After the season I had a few NFL teams come sniffing but they weren’t offering a lot of money up front and Ottawa put a big offer on the table, so I couldn’t pass it up.

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

I was too young into my career to really understand that part of the business. I didn’t look at it like other people, I just looked at it like there’s an owner and I’m a player and we had a mutual respect. If I saw him I’d say hello but not much else because I knew that to keep my job I had to perform at a high level.

When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up?

I was getting calls from Ticats at the time but in the dispersal draft they traded with Saskatchewan, and I knew I wasn’t going there as they already had guys like Omar Morgan and Eddie Davis. BC really came out of nowhere but it was a good change for me, I went from from shit to sugar, last place to Grey Cup. I wasn’t used to losing and only ever had a losing season when I was in college at Mississippi State. Losing was killing me but the most disappointing thing about the Renegades folding was that us players felt like we were about to turn things around. When Ottawa went under the best players were scooped up but a lot of good friends lost jobs.

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I’m sure every interception is satisfying but did you enjoy picking off certain QBs more than others?

I loved picking off Anthony Calvillo or Ricky Ray, when you got those guys, you knew you were really doing your thing. But now that I think about it, the most satisfying interceptions were when I got Dave Dickenson in practice, because he knew the all angles. Dickenson didn’t have the strongest arm but his ball placement was perfect.

Were you a big trash talker?

Early in career I was, but I did it to get noticed and make a name for myself. Where I’m from that’s how you got noticed. Later on in my career I matured and didn’t need to do it as much. I mean of course I still did it, but I didn’t waste time trashing talking guys I played three times a year. I knew to save it for the playoffs.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

I had a routine to do the opposite actually. I listened to slow music because I  had to mellow myself out. I knew the next couple hours would be high pressure with me flying around so basically I had to meditate and get my mind right.

Who was the toughest receiver you ever had to cover?

I played against a lot of great wide receivers. I think I had tough match ups every week, going head to head with guys like Ben Cahoon, Jason Tucker, Milt Stegall, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps, Nik Lewis, DJ Flick, and Jeremaine Copeland. Week after week they kept coming and I had to come in and set the tempo. Against guys like that you have to stick your fork in the ground, stand strong and make them play your way. If you blink they’ll beat you all day.

During your CFL career you played for Ottawa, BC and Winnipeg, where was the toughest stadium to play in and why?

I wouldn’t say it was the toughest atmosphere, but in Hamilton I only ever made a few plays. After some success against them early in my career with Ottawa, once I went to BC something about that stadium just threw me off a bit. In 10 years I think I only made 5 or 6 big plays there. I’m not saying I played poorly in Hamilton, just that I didn’t have great games there, never really got my mojo going.

Obviously this season things in Winnipeg didn’t work out as you hoped, what happened there and what are your plans for next season?

I don’t know what happened there, I always respected everyone and did what I needed to do. When I came into Winnipeg they gave me a big contract, hyped me up as an impact player and everyone seemed to be on the same page. I had a great camp, picking off 8 passes in practice, was a stand up teammate and always did what I was asked. It boiled down to the fact that Gary Etcheverry had a problem with me, which I never understood since we were working towards the same goal. One day in practice I asked him a question and he just nodded and jogged off without answering me. At the next meeting he starts it off by talking about how players shouldn’t question coaches, etc. etc. This is the same guy who doesn’t use a playbook, he just writes plays on the board and then erases them. As a player you feel uncomfortable as you have nothing to reference when studying. To Etcheverry players are just horses to be run. He’s a total joke and a clown. I’m not denying he’s got a good football mind but the man’s a clown and has no relationship with his players.

When the Bombers started playing games with me, putting me on the IR and stuff, the joke ended up on them as they were on the hook for my salary this season, and with the settlement I got to stay home this year and get paid. The whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me hate the CFL. Well, actually not the CFL, just Winnipeg, I hope they never win anything again. As for my career I’m done with football.

Did you still keep in touch with any of the other guys you played with in Ottawa?

I still talk to Kyries Hebert, Jason Armstead and I recently met Quincy Coleman for some drinks. I catch up with Brad Banks once in awhile as well.

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Why did you wear #24?

When I first came to Ottawa the equipment manager gave it to me. I got off to a good start using it and everyone in every pro league wearing #24 was balling, so I decided to roll with that.

What piece of football advice would you offer to young players looking to take their game to the next level?

You gotta ask yourself before you think about a career as a football player, do you have anything else to fall back on? Don’t just go into it wanting to be a football player, since you can’t control that. You’ve gotta understand the game and your opponent and then you’ll do well. If you don’t know the game you’re competing on athletics.

When CFL fans hear the name Korey Banks, what would you like them to think of or remember?

I’d like them to remember a guy who played the game at a great level. When a new DB breaks into the CFL and has sustained success, not a flash in the pan one year wonder, but success at a high level for a number of years, I’d like them to say “Man that guys reminds me of Korey Banks”. That would truly be satisfying.

Thanks for your time Korey and best of luck to you in the future!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography

#TBT: An Interview with Rohan Marley

By: Santino Filoso

Rohan Marley Ottawa Rough Riders 1995. Photo John Bradley

In this week’s Throwback Thursday interview we sit down with Rohan Marley, the former Miami Hurricane and son of the late reggae artist Bob Marley. After leading the Hurricanes with 95 tackles in his senior season, Rohan signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995, playing one season in the CFL.

RR: When did you decide you wanted to play football?
RM: It started as a child when I was watching the Miami Dolphins play during the 1984-1985 NFL Football season.
At Miami you played along guys like Dwayne Johnson and Ray Lewis, how were they as teammates?
It was great to see the desire that they had for winning and it’s evident in their life today that they continue to win.
What made you decide to come to the CFL and why did you choose the Rough Riders?
I was ineligible for NFL draft and while on tour with my brothers, one of my uncle’s friends called the CFL asking for a tryout for me. I came to the tryout not knowing it was a tryout and was selected by the Rough Riders.
What was your first impression of Ottawa and looking back now what are some of the things about the city that have stuck with you through the years?
I thought that it was a nice and green, very friendly city with a good mixture of cultures. I remember the Byward Market and riding my bicycle through the city to practice, as that was my only mode of transportation.
Why did you walk away from the game after only one season?
Every day whether we practiced or played, once I got home I would play soccer. After that I would spend a lot of time reading the Bible and while I was reading the Bible, I found that my passion for the game started to drift away from the team and more towards myself. I lost my passion for tackling. The more I read the Bible, the more I was taken away from the game.
Was there any particular reason you wore #1?
Number two wasn’t available.
Despite your small size (for a LB), you had a reputation as a ferocious hitter. What was the hardest hit you ever laid on someone?
There were many, but one instance that stands out is a game against the Memphis Mad Dogs. I remember hitting the lineman so hard, that I knocked him out and I became discombobulated myself.
Did you like to trash talk opponents or were you more of a quiet player?
I don’t trash talk, I just speak my mind. If you ask me something, I defend myself. I say it like it is.
Were you superstitious and if so what was your pre-game routine?
I used to spend 3 hours in my locker room preparing my mind. There was an orange tribute shirt with my fathers face on it that I would wear every game. I would also write Jah Rastafari on my socks.
How did you pump yourself up before a game?
On the way to the stadium, while riding my bicycle, I would listen to my father’s music to clear my mind and get peace. I would sit in the locker room, facing my locker breathing in and out, taking deep breaths for about 2.5 hours, thinking about the game and my opponents.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
The friends I made.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your old teammates?
Yes.
In 2009 you founded your own coffee brand, what was that process like?
The process has been a huge learning and growing experience. In 1999 when I bought the farm I knew nothing about growing coffee, and from there we’ve gone through so much – changing the farm to organic, taking the coffee from a couple of grocery stores to big distribution deals with Safeway, Albertsons, Krogers, and others. After living in Ethiopia, in 2007, I wanted to have a global coffee company and I believe we are getting there by choosing the right partners and keeping true to our values.
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Ads for your coffee have recently been shown at TD Place, talk about how that came to be.
We have very strong ties to Canada through our partnership with Mother Parkers Coffee & Tea Company – Canada is their home base and that’s where they produce our RealCup single serve capsules and take us into the retail market. Being that I played a year of football in Ottawa for the Rough Riders, and the CEO of the company Brent Toevs is from Canada, Marley Coffee has very strong ties to the region. The partnership came to be because of these relationships and with the help of Mother Parkers.
You’re known for being very involved with charity work, what fuels that desire?
It’s natural to give. I grew up with the habit of giving and wanting to do more.
Would you ever consider coming back to Ottawa and watching a Redblacks game?
 Absolutely. I would love to.
Thank you very much for your time Rohan and best of luck with your future endeavours!