#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

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#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: 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

#TBT: Catching Up With Korey Banks

By: Santino Filoso

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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!

#TBT: An Interview with Mike Abou-Mechrek

By: Santino Filoso

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Today we sit down with former Ottawa Renegades offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek. Drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999 and quickly going on to establish himself as a reliable starter throughout his 10 year career, Mike played in Ottawa from 2002-2004 before winning a Grey Cup with Saskatchewan in 2007.

RR: You played for the Renegades from 2002-2004, what are some of your favourite memories of that time?

MBM: Ask any of the players, coaches, GMs, or front office staff, anybody at all who was a part of that Renegade family, and they’ll tell you that their favourite memory of Ottawa was the people. We came together as a family like no other team that I was on in my 20 years playing the game. I’m still good friends with some of those guys and even our children are best friends . We forged a bond that couldn’t have been built anywhere except on an expansion team in a foreign city, lead by Coach Pao Pao, Kani Kuahi and their beautiful wives Dottie and Gay who brought all of us “Renegades” together.

Why did you choose to sign in Ottawa as a free agent?

Playing with Winnipeg was great and I had just finished my 3rd season in the CFL and 2nd as a starter, but I felt that being on an expansion team would give me more job security so that I could grow and get better as a football player. That, combined with the fact that I’m from Toronto and wanted to be closer to home without being too close, made it an easy choice. Ottawa is a beautiful city that I may still retire in and live there again one day.

What kind of challenges does an expansion team face that a normal team wouldn’t?

Football is the ultimate team sport and expansion teams are just a bunch of “Renegades” thrown together on a roster – they aren’t a team. The X’s and O’s are the same as everyone else but the guys don’t know each other yet.

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

I went back to Winnipeg in 2005 so I didn’t see the entire circus but I will say that the first act was enough for me.

Who was the toughest defensive player you were lined up against?

I’d say there were three: Joe Fleming, Johnny Scott and Cameron Wake

Did you have a favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

Yeah, the Rogers Centre. I’ve won a high school city championship, a Vanier Cup, and a Grey Cup in the it, plus it’s in my home town, so you’d think I’d love the place but I don’t. It feels like you are playing in someone’s back yard: no fans, no atmosphere, no passion.

What was your typical pre-game meal?

Half a chicken with two cups of pasta and a big salad….which I would throw up before every game.

Run blocking > pass blocking?

Of course, you shouldn’t even need to ask

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Describe your perfect day off while living in Ottawa.

Bike ride from Barrhaven down to the Byward Market, stopping at the Canal Ritz for a rest and refreshment. That’s the best drive/ride there is in Ottawa in my opinion.

Once I was feeling refreshed I’d continue down to the market , maybe hit up a used book store, eat some delicious Lebanese cuisine and find another patio. Later on someone would have to come pick me up and take me home because all that bike riding and refreshing makes one tired.

Who was the funniest guy you ever played with?

Marc Parenteau

Is the a special reason why you wore #67?

Many reasons. First off it’s the last year the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Cup. Secondly it’s slimming; the 6 gives the number the girth that a big man like me needs but the 7 brings the eyes in to the waist line, the number really accentuates my V shaped body haha. The worst and final reason is that it’s two away from 69 (me and you baby).

Now that you’ve retired, what are you doing for work?

I’m a Certified Financial Planner, which is what I originally wanted to be when I grew up, football just got in the way. In fact, I started my career in finance while playing in Ottawa, I was sure they would cut me and wanted to be ready to move on once they did. Thankfully I’ve never been cut.

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

Abou

Do you still keep in touch with any former teammates, and if so, who?

Alex Gauthier, Marc Parenteau, George Hudson and Val St’Germain are some of my best friends, our wives all get along and our kids are the same age. It was such a blessing to come to Ottawa and meet such good people. I also keep in touch with Greg Bearman too, but he doesn’t have a wife and kids. I chat with Gay Kuahi on Facebook at least once a week.

What piece of advice would you offer any high school or university lineman looking to go pro?

Don’t look to go pro, just work hard at whatever you are going to do, or else it isn’t worth doing. If you focus on something you love to do the “pros” will find you. I was quite a fat, shy kid with low self esteem and football gave me a vehicle where my size finally was an advantage – as I WAS athletic. All the faster smaller kids who used to call me names and then run away in the school yard had nowhere to run to on the gridiron.

O-line coaches in junior ball have their work cut out for them because quite simply the kids aren’t strong enough to do things ‘right’. Trusting a coach is the best thing any athlete can do, especially when you are learning to play o-line. Everyone knows what the QB or RB has to do but no one knows what the O-line does or why they do it until they play the position. It’s quite humbling learning a game you thought you knew all over again.

For those looking to get better at football, or anything else: trust your coach/mentor, come up with a plan, and then do what you said you were going to do. The single best piece of advice I ever got (and it didn’t pertain to football at the time) was SHUT UP AND WORK.

Thank you very much Mike for a hell of an interview! Take care and we hope to see you in Ottawa again soon!

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: An Interview with Gord Weber

By: Santino Filoso

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Today we sit down with Ottawa native and former Rough Rider linebacker Gord Weber. Weber was drafted in the 7th round after an award winning CIS career (CIS First Team All Canadian twice) where he was a QQIFC All-Star and the QQIFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 with the Ottawa GeeGees. Gord played for the Rough Riders from 1990 until 1994.

RR: Growing up in Ottawa, did you get a chance to take in a lot of games at Lansdowne?

 GW: I used to deliver the Ottawa Citizen newspaper just to get free tickets.  Back then if you had a paper route you got into the end zone section for free. Being a 12 year old it was scary because after every field goal or extra point there used to be fights for the footballs that went over the fence.

How did it feel to be drafted by your hometown team, did you have any indication before the draft that Ottawa might take you?

It was an honour to be drafted by my hometown team, growing up my mother went to all my games and being drafted by Ottawa meant she could continue to watch every game. Not to mention the fact that I was able to keep my friends from high school and university that were from Ottawa.

During your time in Ottawa the team changed the logo on the helmets from the traditional white R to the double flaming Rs. Which did you prefer?

The original R is the one and only Rough Riders logo in my opinion.  End of story and no doubt about it

You managed to get to the playoffs every season you played, how is playoff football different from the regular season?

In a small league of 8 teams you are never counted out.  Much like this year’s Redblacks team you are never out till the season is over.  When playoffs come it’s a new season and you just need to be on a hot streak (not that we ever had one in the playoffs) and from there you never know what can happen. Over the years there have been many sub 500 teams went on to win the Grey Cup.

Who was your funniest teammate?

With a team of 50 players there were always characters… but I have to say that Jeff Brazwell was up there, some of the stuff that came out of his mouth was gold, he knew how to keep the team laughing and loose.

What was the hardest hit you ever laid on someone? 

Man there was a lot that a have given, and I took a few as well.  I loved to blow people up on special teams, nothing like running down the field 40 yards at full speed and launching yourself into a wall of people.  I remember Carl Coultier when he was playing for BC and it was his first game as a long snapper and this was when you were able to take runs at the long snapper.  So all game I kept chirping him saying “Don’t f*ck up or you’ll get cut!”.  He kept his head down too long and I must’ve ear holed him a few times.  In pop warner football I put a few QB’s out.  Big hits come when you’re not looking, so when you blind side someone it’s always fun.

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Did you have a favorite (or least favorite) stadium to play in?

Well you have to always love playing in your hometown.  But I will tell you I am glad I never played for Hamilton, that was the worst stadium ever.  They repainted the logo every year so it was like a ice rink and the walls were only 10 yards away from sidelines of the field.  It was the dirtiest field too, I don’t think they cleaned once since they put the turf in, so when you got turf burn by the time you got to the sidelines, your burn was already starting to ooze pus.

Were you a superstitious player, as in did you have any specific pre-game rituals?

Before games I always watched a VCR tape of the NFL’s hardest hits, and when I got dressed I always did everything right to left; right sock, then left sock, right shoe then left shoe…etc.

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

Well, I’m proud that I was able to play a game I loved and make a little money, even though I tore my ACL twice and had to walk away from the game, it’s an achievement that many cannot say they accomplished.  Also, I’m proud of the work I was able to do in the Ottawa community speaking with kids and adults about being positive in life and being the best you can be.

Have you been to any Redblacks games this season?

Yes actually, I’m a photographer and shoot for the CFL so I have been to them all. You can see my work at www.gordweber.com.  Be warned what you see at my website cannot be unseen, haha

North or South Side?

 Always South

What are you doing for work nowadays?

I’m a photographer in the Ottawa area and specialize in Fitness, Glamour and Commercial Photography.  I love what I do, so I can’t really say that I work.  This year alone, I’ve travelled to Mexico, Dominican Republic, Revelstoke (BC) and through Ontario to photograph beautiful people.  If you’re doing something you love and it’s fun then you can’t call it work.

 Why did you choose to get into photography?

 I didn’t choose it, it kind of chose me. I picked up a camera 10 years ago and just couldn’t put it down.  I begged people to allow me to photograph them and attended sports games and other events just to shoot.  All of a sudden people started asking me to do their pictures, weddings, events, etc.  At first I did it for fun, but then I started getting too many requests, so I started charging a fee.  It was a great way to make some extra cash while I was working in the wine business.  Eventually I was able to make more and took the leap to making it my career.

How does your playing experience make you a better sports photographer?

Well as I say to my students when I teach photography workshops, if you understand your subject you’re able to put yourself in the best location to get the shot.  My CFL career has been asset because I understand the game and the behaviour of the athletes which in turn makes me have a higher quality shot ratio than many.

CFL Alouettes-

Do you still keep in touch with any of your old teammates? 

Because Ottawa was my hometown, I always had my friends that I grew up with.  Also playing on a team that went through players like water it was tough to have a really close bond.  Over the 5 years I was part of the Rough Riders, only 5 others played with me throughout the entire time.  The turnover on the team was crazy, so I didn’t stay in touch with too many guys. That being said there’s a few that are still in the Ottawa area that I still see and talk to once in awhile.

Thanks for your time Gord!

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: Interview with Jerome Haywood

By: Santino Filoso

For today’s Throwback Thursday interview we sit down with former Ottawa Renegade defensive lineman Jerome Haywood. A stalwart at San Diego state, Haywood started 46 consecutive games before being signed by the Renegades in 2002 as an undrafted free agent. During his time in Ottawa Haywood was a ferocious run stuffer at nose tackle where he consistently faced double and even triple teams despite standing only 5’8″.

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RR: As a Californian coming up to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?
JH: Besides the airport, the first place in Ottawa that I saw was Kemptville where we had training camp. I definitely started having second thoughts about playing in Canada when I saw the small airport and then Kemptville . I thought Ottawa was like Kemptville for about a week and a half until we had a day off during training camp and I finally got a chance to go into the city.
You played for the Renegades from 2002-2006, what are some of your favorite memories of that time?
I remember the epic Canada Day game in 2005  as it was a good time from start to finish. I loved our red jerseys. Training camp in 2005 was great as well because we had such a great coaching staff that year.  To be honest I loved every minute while I was in Ottawa. I remember hanging out at the deli across the street from the stadium with players and coaches, just bonding and having a great time.
Looking at your CFL stats I noticed that you had 3 rushing attempts for the Renegades in 2004, were those goal-line carries?
One goal line carry and two middle of the field carries. I played fullback on our goal line package and I loved it. I’m not one for the spot light, I just like to kick ass. Making holes for the running back was awesome. The time I got the ball on the goal line sucked because I didn’t punch it in.
A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?
I wouldn’t blame it all on ownership and I’m sure that they wouldn’t blame the players and coaches. In my personal opinion I think our lack of success was with the players.  We played in plenty of games that we were right in it until the end but found a way to smoke it off. I don’t believe that as a whole we had the mental toughness that you need to be successful. In our last year we were headed in that direction with a solid group of guys but then the team folded. Unfortunately winning doesn’t happen overnight and you have to have a strong foundation to be good. Coach Etch (Gary Etcheverry) always said “It is what it is.”
When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up and what was the general mood of the players upon learning that Ottawa would be disbanded?
I had no clue where I was going but I knew that I would be picked up by someone. That time really sucked  because a lot of good players lost jobs. I couldn’t believe that a team would fold after just 4 years, especially one in the Nation’s Capital. I’m happy that football is finally back in Ottawa!
You have 31 career sacks, is there one that was more satisfying than the others?
I don’t remember the exact one but the sacks that I will always cherish are the sacks against Anthony Calvillo. I can say that I hit that man maybe 6-9 times a game but I have sacked him maybe 6-8 times in my career.  He was definitely a hard one to sack because he would get rid of the ball right as he was being hit and he would get back up and do it again. But I would say that all of my sacks against him stand out.
Who was the biggest trash talker you ever played against?
I don’t remember one person that I actually played against but Adriano Belli was always talking to the teams that I played with. For me it was fun because I always played harder when I would hear him running his mouth. My first 2 years in the league I talked a lot of trash but only having 9 teams in the league it was kind of hard to keep talking because you end up seeing other  players on the field, or out at the bar after the game, and sometimes even on your team the following week.
Did you have any pre-game superstitions?
I wasn’t too bad with my superstitions. I would always have a bag of peanut M&M’s the night before the game. I would also take an Epsom salt bath the night before as well. I always wore the same clothes under my jersey for the year. My warm-up for the game was something that I’d done since college. I would jog around the field before the game and spend my time stretching and sizing up whose ass I was going to kick.
What was the hardest hit you ever made on someone?
John Avery got a good hit from me but I really didn’t do much. We were playing Toronto and it was a run play. I was holding my gap and I saw the hand off to Avery so I waited for him to commit to a gap. He decided to run to the gap right next to me because for some reason it was open. Once I saw him commit I spun from my gap to the gap that he was running to and when I came out of my spin he was running full speed and ran into me. He bounced off to me to the turf and landed on his back. His exact words to me were “Damn Haywood I’ve never been hit that hard.” It was a big collision and I felt it but I’m happy that I was the hammer and not the nail.
Describe your perfect off day while living in Ottawa.
My perfect day was simple. I wanted to be in apartment with my wife (girlfriend at the time) relaxing after I worked out and sat in the cold tub at the facility. I’m a laid back kind of guy.
Throughout your CFL career you played for Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, what was the toughest stadium to play at?
The toughest place for me to play was Saskatchewan. The fans love their Riders and I heard it all. I’ve never been called a fat ass until I was there, good times!
Now that you´ve been out of the league for a few years, what are you doing for work?
Right now I’m a PE Teacher/Athletic Director at a school for at-risk youth. I’m also working on becoming a personal trainer. I love the game of football and now its about time for me to start working my way back in it somehow, maybe as a strength coach or something like that.
Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?
I do! Derrick Ford is a close friend of mine as well as Tony White and Kai Ellis. I still talk to Coach Pao Pao from time to time. Facebook keeps a lot of us connected.
Any plans to head back to Ottawa to catch a Redblacks game?
I sure do! I hope that it will be a lot sooner than later too. I have to deal with some immigration stuff and I will be up there so my wife can visit her family and I can see the new team. I might even ask for a job hahaha.
Every player has a nickname or two, what was yours?
I’ve had a few but the one that I go by is Rome, Romey, Romey Rome. I’ve also been called Tank and the Plug.
What was the best piece of football advice you ever received?
I don’t know the single best piece because I received a lot over the years. I can’t remember who told me but one that stuck with me was “Don’t be complacent because there is always someone better than you out there so you better work hard.” I think in 2005 I was complacent and I should have lost my job because I was out played by a rookie but I wasn’t let go because I was durable and the coaches knew what I could do. Trust me, that after that I told myself I would not let that happen again ever in my life.
Jerome Haywood Ottawa Renegades 2005. Photo F. Scott Grant
Thanks for your time Jerome, and a hell of an interview too! Best of luck in the future and we can’t wait to see you back visiting Ottawa!

#TBT: An Interview with Ken Evraire

By: Santino Filoso

In this week´s Throwback Thursday Interview, we sit down with Ken Evraire, a former SB (slotback) for the Ottawa Rough Riders. A star receiver with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Ken was drafted by Saskatchewan in the 1988 draft, but traded to Ottawa before the season started. After 9 seasons in the CFL with 4 different teams, Ken retired and started a broadcasting career in Ottawa.

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RR: Coming out of  Wildfrid Laurier University you were drafted by  Saskatchewan, how surprised were you to start the season with Ottawa?

KE:  I was quite surprised when I was traded to Ottawa. I was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a DB despite my being a 2-time All-Canadian receiver at WLU. I learned a lot as a DB during my rookie training camp which was key to my success as a receiver in Ottawa. With that said, my agent and I had worked hard to be traded to the Toronto Argonauts. Roughrider GM Bill Baker called me into his office one day and told me to say hello to Wayne Giardino (GM of the Ottawa Rough Riders) and not Bob O’Billovich of the Toronto Argo as thought it would be.  In hindsight, everything worked out for me and becoming an Ottawa Rough Rider was a great highlight of my career.

Speaking of Wilfrid Laurier, can you walk us through that fabled 106 yard Yates Cup play?

We faced a very strong Western Mustangs team led by a boatload of all-stars, guys like Blake Marshall, Pierre Verscheval, Irv Daymond, Matt Janes, Kyle Hall, etc. Western made a concerted effort to take away our play action vertical passing game. I always played on the right side but the coach decided to move me to the left. Rather than facing Kyle Hall I lined up against Marius Locke. We called a 3 step pass play that hinged on a signal I relayed to QB Mike Wilson. I had a feeling Marius would be aggressive so I signaled for a slant and go. Locke bit on the slant and Wilson threw a perfect pass. I scored what was the go ahead TD but we lost thanks to a last second TD scored by Blake Marshall.

Growing up were you a Rough Rider fan and did you get a chance to see a lot of games at Lansdowne?

I was very much a Rough Rider fan thanks in large part to the time I spent at the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club. The Rough Rider players took time out to visit us at the club so I immediately identified with them. Then, thanks to the donation of Rough Rider tickets I was able to go to games with my family. My dad always made sure we arrived before the pre-game warm ups so we could watch the players prepare and watch how they carried themselves as they prepared.  Once the game ended, we would jump on to the field to meet the players. QB Rick Cassata gave me his chinstrap which was a very big deal for a kid back then.

Over your career you had the opportunity to play with a number of  talented QBs, I know it may be tough to say but who did you most enjoy catching passes from?

Damon Allen…there is no argument. Damon’s passes would land in your hands like he handed it to you. He was so athletic and thanks to his baseball background he had great touch. He always knew when to put some heat on the pass or when to drop it in over the top with a soft touch.

Did you have a favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

I never enjoyed playing in Calgary. With the change of elevation you would feel great in warm ups and then your legs would just die when you came back out to play the game. Plus, you had to walk up this long ramp to get back to the locker room. Not fun! Winnipeg ranks a very close second.

Who was the biggest trash talker you ever played against?

The biggest trash talker that I played against was actually a group of players. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had the best LB core (James West, Tyrone Hill, Paul Randolph, Greg Battle) and they talked trash from the first play right through to the end of the game. I had a lot of respect for them because they played hard. Intimidation was a big part of their game and they were good at it.

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

When I look back on my career I´m most proud of the people I met (teammates and fans). When you are in the moment you compete to win and you are measured by your performance on the field. Yet the time spent with great teammates, laughing so hard you think your lungs are going to explode, growing up as a young man and experiencing the human connection that transcends the game on the field will always mean a lot to me.

When your cousin Chris Evraire entered the CFL, what kind of advice did you give him?

I simply told him that he was good enough to play pro ball. Yes, there are some great athletes and they come from some very significant football programs but at the end of the day it’s all about competing and about who wants to succeed more.

After your football career ended you settled in Ottawa and got  into broadcasting with A-Channel, what was the most difficult transition in going from playing sports to talking about them?

I think letting go of the game was the greatest challenge for me. In my heart, I wanted to play forever, but my body was telling me it was time to let the game go. With that said, I was quite fortunate in working with so many great people at A-Channel. They were the next great team I was honored to have been a part of.

Since retiring you’ve gotten into coaching. How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I coach athletes “up”. My focus is to prepare the athlete for success in the moment and prepare them for the next level of competition they will face once they move on. If you coach up then the winning takes care of itself. You may not win the championship but you play a key role in cultivating better athletes and even greater people.

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What are you currently doing for work?

I am a leadership and team building coach. I created the  “The I in Team” and the  “360 Degree Circle of Influence” programs which are based on my  “coaching up” approach to leadership and team building.

Will you be out at any Redblacks games this summer?

I will be at the Redblacks games with my wife and kids just as my dad had brought my mom, sisters and brother to games. We will show up early to watch warm ups and cheer the team on through thhick and thin.

What do think of the Redblacks new uniforms, do you prefer the home or away ones?

I like both uniforms but if I had to make a choice I think the black jerseys and black pants are intimidating! Kind of reminds me of the black jerseys the Rough Riders wore in the 90s.

Give me one reason why you think the Redblacks can be competitive in their inaugural season.

I think the team will be competitive thanks to their great coaching and scouting staff. Coach Campbell understands the value of the Canadian athlete and the need to find players (be they Canadian or American) who are up to the challenge of being competitive. Winning is a state of mind! What the team thinks and believes before the ball is kicked off will be important. The players will be able to draw on what is a great football legacy and a great fan base in Ottawa.

Thank you very much for your time Ken, and see you at Lansdowne!

@RedBlackGade