Antoine Pruneau who was one of the Redblacks first draft picks in franchise history has found himself going into his seventh season as a professional football player. In 2014, he was drafted as the 4th overall pick to the Ottawa Redblacks. At the time, the team was an expansion team with a lot of doubt surrounding them going into the inaugural season and the doubters weren’t wrong about the team.
Without much experience on both sides of the ball, the Redblacks were only able to win 2 games in year one. The team finished 2-16 and fell last place in the league, but there was a lot of learning happening in the season for the young guys like Pruneau. Pruneau was able to get in the starting lineup for the majority of his rookie season where he made 79 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble and fell on the defensive leaders at 10th in total tackles.
After the tough rookie season for Pruneau, the Redblacks picked up some veteran players on the defensive side of the ball where Pruneau would find himself losing a little bit of playing time on defensive, but started to get more special teams time. In 2015, the team turned their record around and went 12-6 and took the fans to the Grey Cup for the first time in franchise history. In year two of his career, Antoine put up 70 tackles, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. The totals that Pruneau put up in the first two seasons were pretty steady and he started to help the team win games as the next season he’d play would change the dynamics of his career.
Following the loss in the Grey Cup the team used the loss as motivation and got back to the big game a second straight year. The same team that went 2-16 in the inaugural season was set to play in the Grey Cup for a second consecutive season and Pruneau was a huge help to get to this point. Pruneau helped play a veteran role for the first time in his career where he helped guys like Jonathan Rose and Forest Hightower who were in their rookie seasons. Playing that role, Pruneau put 69 tackles, a sack and an interception. Although these stats don’t mean much when it comes to league leaders, but he and the rest of the team got a stat to go by their names for the remainder of their lives. The Ottawa Redblacks won the Grey Cup in 2016, and in the big game, Pruneau’s secondary forced Bo Levi Mitchell to throw three interceptions.
After 3 seasons in the books, Pruneau was set to play in Ottawa for 2017 following the Grey Cup win, and 2017 would be his last season where he’d play all 18 games of a season. In 2017, Pruneau had if not his best season where he racked up 73 total tackles, one sack and 4 interceptions where one left in a pick six.
The next season, he got hit by the injury bug, where he only played 13 games but got the chance to play in the Redblacks 3rd Grey Cup appearance where he got 10 playoff tackles to go to his 56 regular season tackles, one interception and a forced fumble.
Unfortunately, the Redblacks weren’t able to bring home the win in 2018, and later took the turn for the worst. After a Grey Cup loss, the majority of the team’s playmakers were free agents come February. The Redblacks whole identity was lost by the time 2019 was here, and Pruneau was in for a spectacular rise to where we are today. Pruneau played just 4 games before he was hit hard by the injury bug. First, he had injured his hand which left him on the 6-game injured list, although only missed 3. He only missed 3, but only got to play 4 more games before being placed back onto the injured list with an injured leg.
All in all, the 3-15 season didn’t quite treat Pruneau too well as he played just half of the season and got 30 tackles and an interception.
Since the final game of this past season, there has been a load of moves happening with the Redblacks and as one of the leaders on the Redblacks defense I asked Pruneau what he has in mind about these moves along with going forward to next year.
One on one with Antoine Pruneau
Zlomislic: Six years ago, you were drafted and signed to play for the CFL’s expansion team here in Ottawa, what was your initial reactions to the news?
Pruneau: “I was very excited! My interview with them was great, so I felt a connection with the people there and we all had a good feeling about the futures of the team. With the connections I had built with the people, I was excited to work there, but the fact that it was a new team and that they didn’t quite have their guys picked out sealed the decision because I knew I’d have the shot at the starting job.”
Zlomislic: Now we look onto today, 6 years later… You’ve experienced three Grey Cup games along with many more big moments here in Ottawa, how would you describe your time here in Ottawa?
Pruneau: “As I looked upon my decisions after University, I was pretty well highlighting Montréal as my top option just because I lived near by and played university ball there but after seeing what happened in the years in Ottawa, I made the right choice. The whole process has been awesome, ever since year one we’ve found ways to be contenders for the Grey Cup and the relationships I’ve built here in Ottawa have been great.”
Zlomislic: As mentioned, you’ve played in some really big games here in Ottawa and have found yourself to be a fan favorite, what is your favorite memory and your favorite part of being an Ottawa Redblack?
Pruneau: “After being signed and spending the past six years in Ottawa, I’ve put together a very solid career here in Ottawa and I’m looking forward to keep building it. We started off tough as we had to do everything from scratch, but since the first season everything has been great, my favorite memory would have to be the Grey Cup win in 2016. I don’t think anything will ever top that unless we win a bunch more. The group we had that year was unbelievable and the way we won was awesome. The celebration put in was awesome and I don’t think it would’ve been done without the fans. The relationship I’ve built with the fans here in Ottawa is awesome and I hope to play for them again for the next six years.”
“As for favorite part, for me I believe the best part of being a football player in Ottawa is just being at work. I haven’t played anywhere other than Ottawa, but from talking to people within the league, I don’t think other teams build relationships like we do here in Ottawa. I feel like everyone trusts everyone and that its a very good community when it comes to the ownership and coaches. This morning (Saturday) I was going to workout at the gym we have at the stadium and I realized just how cool it is to be a Redblacks player. The head guys at the stadium gave me the keys to the stadium just so I could get some extra workouts in over the holidays, and I believe they would do that for anyone else just because that how everything is in Ottawa.”
Zlomislic: In the six years you’ve played here in Ottawa, you have played under head coach Rick Campbell, but this off-season it was announced that you’d play under new coach Paul LaPolice heading into the new season, what do you have to say about this move?
Pruneau: “I really appreciate all my time I spent with Rick, he really taught me a lot and he’s the only coach I know on the professional level and I certainly think he’ll do a great job out in B.C and with him moving on Marcel made a good move in getting Paul and I think he has one of the greatest offensive minds in the league and we can be confident that we will have a good offense but I will also make sure our defense isn’t too shabby also.”
Zlomislic: This move happened just a few weeks after the heart breaking 3-15 season last year, how frustrating was it for you, as a leader of the team to fall to last place?
Pruneau: “It has been really hard. It started back in the off-season really when we lost all of our key components from the year before and when the media started talking, we listened and it ends up what they were saying was all true because we weren’t in the right mindset starting the season and overall was just a frustrating season for me because of all the injuries I fought through to help the team out and show that I’m healthy and a dedicated player for our team moving forward.”
Zlomislic: Since the last game of the last season, Marcel has been extremely busy making moves and one of them brought in Mike Benevides as your new defensive co-ordinator. What excites you the most to play for Benevides?
Pruneau: “Marcel sure is busy in the office this year, but I have all the trust in the world for him and he’s been making some great transactions. He started off well when he signed back Bob Dyce, he is a great special teams coach and now with Mike Benevides, he’s making it even more exciting to get back on the field. Mike has a lot of experience and I truly think that is the thing that excites me the most to see him is to learn from his experience.”
Zlomislic: When you first entered the league, you laced experience and you were led by guys like Hank and Jovon Johnson who had experience already, now we look on this year and this past year, you’ve been a great leader for this Redblacks team, what is it like to go from rookie to leader here in Ottawa?
Pruneau: I think it’s been a really cool experience for me to stay on the same team here in Ottawa for the 6 years and make the leader transition with the same team I started with. When I first came here, guys like Hank, Pat Lavoie and Jovon Johnson all were a big help for me making the leap and getting ready for my future. Now to take their roles has been great. I feel like I’m really contributing when I help with these guys on the team. It’s not just stuff that goes on on the field that I help with either, I’ve helped guys find thing for what they want to do off the field and stuff like that which I feel is a great necessity and I am happy to help as a leader on the Redblacks.”