CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks kickoff training camp; stories to tune in to for the 2022 season

After three tough years for the Ottawa Redblacks and their fan base, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and his teammates are focused on flipping the script in the nation’s capital. Over the past three years, going 3-15, missing out on a full season and going 3-11, the entire CFL has lost any hope they had in the Ottawa Redblacks. From 2015 through 2018 they were the talk of the CFL, going to the playoffs each and every year, and making their way to the Grey Cup in 3 of the seasons, but once things started to go downhill, the only hope was coming from inside the organization and close by. The front office, coaching staff, and players have stayed strong, and have worked extremely hard over the last 3 years to get back what they had in Ottawa before. Unfortunately the goals were never reached, however with some major changes in the locker room and the front office, 2022 has become the year that the script around the CFL is flipped for the Ottawa Redblacks and it all begins now.

The off-season was a work of beauty for Ottawa Redblacks fans to watch come together. Seeing the roster that Shawn Burke was able to build, it was a work of art, really. Starting off with veteran CFL quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and continuing with star power around him like Jaelon Acklin, Darvin Adams, William Powell, Patrick Levels, Kwaku Boateng, Money Hunter and more, the team has been pieced together almost perfectly. The roster, full of talent, is also full of great storylines heading into the 2022 CFL season.

Of course the biggest story is how the team will be able to flip the script. Although it will be much deeper than just that.

Some key stories that are important to keep eyes on for the 2022 CFL season in Ottawa, all starting now in training camp include: a face of the franchise with Jeremiah Masoli, the coming home story of William Powell, the breakout season for Ryan Davis, Shawn Burke’s trip to the body shop with the offensive line (repairs), the prove me year for Sherrod Baltimore, a defensive player of the year campaign for Avery Williams, finding the DeVonte Dedmon replacement and a bounce back year for Lewis Ward.

Without a doubt there will be more stories to follow but those mentioned are clearly some of the more major ones heading into the season, but why is that?

Well beginning with Jeremiah Masoli, this will be the first time since Trevor Harris that the Ottawa Redblacks will have a proven starting quarterback. Someone with experience, winning experience, and someone with tremendous leadership. For years he has been a star in Hamilton, and now it is time that that star shines bright in the nation’s capital. He comes into Ottawa with the goal to win the Grey Cup, and is doing so alongside a great group of teammates that have the potential to do so, but the wins on the field are just as important as what Masoli can do off of the field as well as the franchise quarterback in Ottawa. When Henry Burris was the starting quarterback of the Ottawa Redblacks from 2014 through 2016, you didn’t even have to know anything about football to know who he was. His smile, and his impact on the city as a whole was huge, and really, was well known across all of Ottawa. It was a prime example of what a franchise quarterback, and a face of a franchise should be like in Ottawa. With a great reputation from Hamilton, and already some appearances at community events, Jeremiah Masoli’s potential past just the game of football in Ottawa is exactly what the Redblacks need in 2022. In a post-covid season, and a big “flip the script” season, Masoli will be the main character that everyone loves in the Ottawa Redblacks 2022 season.

Another character from the 2022 season that will get a lot of love will be running back William Powell, who has returned to the nation’s capital. Powell was already a star running back in Ottawa once, from 2015 through 2018, and he will be once again in 2022. After two seasons spent in Saskatchewan, rushing for over 1800 yards in 31 games, he comes back home, where he spends his off-seasons, to Ottawa on a mission to win a Grey Cup. He’s won one Grey Cup already in his career, back in 2016 with the Redblacks but wasn’t able to play in the game to say he earned it 100%, and having lost two Grey Cups in 2015, and 2018, this season will be a big one for Powell, at 34 years old on a mission to win a ring.

One player that is hungry to win a Grey Cup as well, and one that has been on a number of successful teams in the past would be Tampa, Florida native Ryan Davis. Davis had a large role with the Redblacks in 2021 as a rookie he caught 55 passes for 589 yards and two scores, winning himself the Redblacks’ rookie of the year award, and opening the eyes of many around the league. One set of eyes that he did open by his performances in 2021 was those of Jeremiah Masoli, and Masoli, with players like Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin, RJ Harris, Nate Behar, Tevaun Smith, BJ Cunningham and Shaq Johnson around as well, will love to have Ryan Davis around as a weapon for the Redblacks offence. At just 25 years old, the Auburn Tigers record holder could still very well make his way into the NFL, and his chances only go up with a breakout season in 2022.

A breakout season from an offensive player would only be possible with a great offensive line. And fortunately for Davis and the other weapons on the roster, Ottawa’s offensive line looks solid heading into the 2022 CFL season. After a horrible season in 2021 up front, Shawn Burke repaired the offensive line, bringing in what is almost an entirely new offensive line. Names like Darius Ciraco, Ucambre Williams, Jacob Ruby, Hunter Steward, and Zack Pelehos are all looked at to be major additions from this off-season and are easily looked at as improvements on paper, the only question though is how they will hold up on the field.

One player that everyone in Ottawa already knows about and have all been reminded of him recently with his own community event earlier this month is Sherrod Baltimore, the Redblacks’ fan favourite defensive back. Baltimore is heading into his 5th season with the Ottawa Redblacks, and he is aging like fine wine in the Redblacks’ secondary, as the league is yet to see his best. In 2017 as a rookie he shocked the league in limited playing time, winning the team’s rookie of the year award, in 2018 he intercepted 4 passes including one in the Grey Cup, and since then he has found himself struggling alongside the rest of the team, unfortunately he also caught the injury bug along the way in the 2021 CFL season, but this 2022 CFL season has all of the attributes to be a special year for Baltimore. In 2018 he has plenty of success, and a lot of it had to do with who was around him. Both Jonathan Rose and Rico Murray were next to him in the secondary. That season Rose and Murray were tied for the league for interceptions. Baltimore shines bright like a star when others around him are shining. This year, with Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans, Patrick Levels, Money Hunter, Antoine Pruneau, Justin Howell and Trumaine Washington playing alongside Baltimore in the secondary, you can expect big things from him. He has already made his name known in the city, and he has already set up his takeover on the city, but now it is time for the execution. The execution for him will be on the football field, and opposing quarterbacks are in danger.

With Baltimore on defence, to go with the long list of stars already named is Avery Williams. Williams has been a star linebacker for the Ottawa Redblacks since he got to the team in 2018. With over 200 tackles in 41 games played, his resume speaks for itself, but it only started to get the league’s attention last season when he was getting nominations for the defensive player of the year award from the Redblacks. This season, it is time for him to win the award.

The only award winner for the Ottawa Redblacks last year was found on the special teams unit in DeVonte Dedmon, winning the most outstanding special teams player of the year award for the 2021 CFL season. Dedmon without question was the best player on the field at all times for the Redblacks in 2021, and with him off to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Redblacks still, despite their success this off-season would be; who is the replacement for DeVonte Dedmon?

To answer that question easily, and truthfully, the answer is nobody. You simply cannot replace DeVonte Dedmon. Everything that he was able to do with the Redblacks, in the small amount of time he did it in, you may never see it again in the CFL, so the appropriate question instead would be, “who will return kicks for Ottawa in 2022?” The answer is unknown at the moment, however with successful experience doing so your top two candidates would include Terry Williams and Byron Marshall. They may not have the same impact that Dedmon did on the special teams unit, but they can definitely give it a go.

The special teams unit in Ottawa, coached by Bob Dyce can arguably be the best around football. It has built up one of the best reputations across all of professional football over recent years, and a big reason comes with the pro football records. From Diontae Spencer’s 496 all-purpose yards, to Dedmon’s 5 touchdowns in 15 games all the way to Lewis Ward’s streak of 69 consecutive made field goals in regular season play, the Ottawa Redblacks’ special teams unit truly puts the word “special” in its name. But will it be special in 2022? It indeed will be special if history repeats itself with Lewis Ward preparing for a bounce back season, where he can get back to where he was in 2018 in the middle of his famous field goal streak. It is definitely something to keep an eye on for the 2022 season, among many other things.

Ottawa Redblacks training camp has already kicked off, and with the season coming up extremely fast, be sure to keep a close eye on the Ottawa Redblacks for the 2022 CFL season as they look to flip the script.

“It went way better than expected.” first ever Sherrod Baltimore Family and Friends day was a success

On Sunday May 8th, Ottawa REDBLACKS fan favourite defensive back opened up the doors of TD Place to the city of Ottawa for his first ever Sherrod Baltimore Family and Friends Day. It was a free football camp for kids 6 to 18 years old, and it was an all around great day for anybody that wanted to hang out with Baltimore, and some other CFL players. From the great day that Mother Nature was able to provide, to the amazing day that Baltimore laid out with the help of his partners, everything about the event on Sunday was a success. When asked about the day, and if it was everything he had expected of it, he told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “it was amazing.” explaining, “it went way better than expected. Saying it was everything I expected it to be would be an understatement. It went above and beyond what I thought it would be like. It’s a blessing to have been able to do an event like that. I am grateful for everyone that helped out and made it possible, and everyone that gave me the opportunity to do it.”

After playing with the Redblacks since 2017, and being cheered on by many around the city, this event that Baltimore put on could be looked at by many as an opportunity for him to give back to the city. Many could see it as his way to say thank you to the fans that have supported him for the past 5 years, and to welcome them back to TD Place for the upcoming season, but really what it was for Baltimore was putting everything he has been doing in the city on the big stage.

Since he got to Ottawa back in 2017, Sherrod Baltimore has always been heavily involved in the community in the city of Ottawa. Whether it was through community events put on by the Redblacks or being incorporated into other events and circles around the city, Baltimore has always been a big name in the city of Ottawa and has consistently been making his presence felt in a positive way. He has built real, and meaningful relationships with a number of individuals across the city, while also serving as a role model for many young athletes as well. Sunday, being able to have an event at TD Place where over 200 kids could gather, play football and have fun, the Sherrod Baltimore Family and Friends day was just putting his work on a bigger stage. Baltimore explained, “I’ve been doing things like this. I’ve been giving back to the city, this was just the first time it was put on a bigger platform for more people to see. I remember when I was in my second season (in Ottawa, 2018) I used to get a uber to St. Matts to go to Coach Jean’s games and trainings. We gave cleats to kids, and I’ve always been in the community, not everyone knew about it all, but after going on a big platform, we’re only going to do more. The future is going to be full of events, and community days for everyone, I’m already thinking of what’s next.”

With more community events like the one on Sunday, the future looks extremely bright in Ottawa.

For those that weren’t able to attend Sherrod Baltimore’s family and friends day, be sure to be on the lookout for the next event, because you will not want to miss it.

“I want to show-out for Canada.” Toronto’s Shanya Murape commits to Kansas Wesleyan for Flag Football

There has been a lot of talk as of recently regarding the growth in talent for football in Canada. With multiple Canadians getting drafted into the NFL each and every year it is clear that football has gotten bigger in Canada, and the football has gotten better, but when we talk about football, for the most part we just talk about young men. Something that should be getting more attention, and be talked more about are all of the talented young women that play football as well in Canada.

Shanya Murape is a perfect example, and should be looked at more for what she is accomplishing coming out of Toronto.

Murape is a flag football quarterback that has recently announced her commitment to Kansas Wesleyan University in the states where she is going to play football and attend post secondary school on a partial scholarship. This has been done before by a few Canadian girls before, but Murape’s story, being a quarterback, and the way she got to Kansas Wesleyan is going to pave way for more girls in the future.

She was first introduced to the game of football in the seventh grade, and showcased her natural athleticism on the field, excelling with her club team, the Toronto Generals. The success she was having, along with the fun playing football early on helped her fall in love with the game. When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in 2020, her passion for the game really kicked in and opened her eyes to a future with football. “When COVID hit, I was thinking a lot about the sports I was playing,” she told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “I didn’t want to quit football and focus on something else, and I didn’t necessarily want to do something else while I play football, so when I saw the NFL post about the NAIA and the women’s flag football that schools were offering, it felt like the perfect thing for me.”

Without knowing much about NAIA Womens Flag Football, Murape began reaching out to schools that offered a flag football team, and coaches across the NAIA. She was sending out all of the film she gathered from before the pandemic playing a number of different positions, and ended up talking to a number of people, getting a lot of interest across the NAIA. Murape really took the recruiting process for flag football the same way she’s seen young men go about it to go division one in football, and showed exactly how it’s done for the next group of girls from Canada that want to go and play flag football at the next level. Talking about the process, she mentioned, “I had a lot of interest. It was nice to talk to coaches, and get the opportunity to commit finally with Kansas Wesleyan.”

She goes to Kansas Wesleyan as a quarterback with the ability to play anywhere on the field, a strong athlete, and Murape has high hopes for herself as she goes to the next level. “I want to show-out for Canada.” she said, “There aren’t a lot of Canadian girls that are across the border in the states playing football, so I want to be able to show everyone that we can play good football, and also be someone that young girls can look up to. When I’m there, and everything I want to tell my story for more girls to know about it.”

Her story will without a doubt be told, and she will have the opportunity to do as much as humanly possible to spread the word about girls flag football in Canada as well as the opportunities that can come with it. In the states it is becoming more popular, and with the NFL helping them out the interest is getting larger every year, and more opportunities open up as more schools begin to offer a team. Unfortunately the same growth is not happening yet in Canada however with the right people, and with time, Shanya Murape believes Canada will have a good presence for flag football. “It’s very slow paced, but there is some growth.” she acknowledged, “its disappointing that the CFL hasn’t taken the same role that the NFL has in the states, but with more girls getting opportunities like me, and with what I want to do too, I think it can be bigger for sure.”

While at Kansas Wesleyan, Shanya intends on taking Exercise Science, and hopes to one day work in football, and in sports once she is finished playing football, so not only does the world have to keep eyes on Shanya Murape the football player but also the young woman off of the field as well. With a good head on her shoulders, and a plan, she is set to be doing big things.

“Its time to lock in.” Ottawa football player Justin Rowe lands opportunity at Asheville School in North Carolina

Over the recent years, there has been a clear growth of talent in the city of Ottawa when it comes to the game of football.

With Ottawa’s Very Own, Jesse Luketa getting drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2022 NFL Draft and Luiji Vilain signing with the Minnesota Vikings, joining Neville Gallimore, and Eli Ankou in the NFL, the city can be seen at the highest level, and will only continue to be seen there moving forward as well.

A few players from Ottawa to keep eyes on over the next couple of years to go to the NFL would include University of Miami’s Akheem Mesidor, Rutgers’ Wesley Bailey and Rene Konga, Penn State’s Jonathan Sutherland and Christian Veilleux, Robert Morris’ Shakespeare Louis and many more. Among the players that you can say are next up is also high school athlete Justin Rowe.

Rowe has been playing football on the west side of Ottawa, in Nepean with NCAFA’s Nepean Eagles over the recent years so his name hasn’t really come up in the conversation too often with the vast majority of talent coming from the east in the Orleans area, but Rowe has always excelled in football. Having started in grade seven playing running back, he was able to outperform a lot of the competition, eventually being moved to quarterback where in youth football in Ottawa he had the opportunity to use his athleticism more, and really show-out for himself in Ottawa.

Last season he led his Nepean Eagles team to a NCAFA championship and played against the Essex Ravens in the OFFL Championship.

The success he had last year, and the film he was able to provide for himself over the coarse of the 2021 season, he goes back to thank his coaches for. Just before the COVID-19 Pandemic he was able to meet Iseah Montgiraud and Coach Jean Guillaume, who both have had a major part in his growth as a football player but also a young man. Iseah Montgiraud, with Limitless Era has trained Rowe, while Guillaume, as a well known high school football coach and recruiting advisor in Ottawa has helped him understand the game of football more, and open the doors for him in football. In an interview with JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic Rowe said, “Meeting coach Jean opened my eyes, and my family’s eyes as well to the future that is possible with football. I’m grateful for everything he has done for myself, and also all of the other players too. A lot of the university guys that played for him before have helped me during trainings and stuff too which has made a difference, and Iseah at Limitless has really gotten me better, and is preparing me for the next level.”

For Rowe, the next level, and the next step he is taking to one day be in the same conversation as the stars in the city like Jesse Luketa, Luiji Vilain, Eli Ankou and Neville Gallimore, is at Asheville School in Asheville, North Carolina.

As a class of 2025 athlete, Rowe really is in a perfect situation. To be able to be where he is right now athletically, training and being coached with some of the best in the city of Ottawa, and to have the opportunity now to cross the border with 3 seasons of football ahead of him at Asheville School is great, and it will not only set himself up to be great on the field but off of it as well.

Rowe is extremely excited to be able to be on campus at Asheville and get to work. “It’s a great feeling.” he said, “It is easy for people to get comfortable in this kind of situation. When you’ve worked this hard already and you’ve gotten some success, but this is time to work harder for me. I’m going to be around better football players, and there will be better football all around so I’m going to have to adapt to that. It’s time to lock in.”

This next step is a step that has already been taken by many from Ottawa. With the number of players from the nation’s capital entering the NFL growing each year, it has become more popular to have paths like Rowe’s shown at that level. The majority of players from Canada that have made their way into the NFL have taken a similar path, where they go to high school in the USA to get exposure, coaching and competition to go to the next level, and eventually the NFL. It is a big gamble, leaving your home country for something that is not guaranteed, but for Justin Rowe, it’s a risk he’s willing to take. No matter what, he believes the plan from the man above is going to set himself up for a beautiful future.

A bible verse that he goes by, Jeremiah 29:11 says everything you need to hear regarding the path he is taking to be successful on and off of the field. It reads, For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD . “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

With interest off of the field in technology, and most specifically cyber security, and hobbies like video editing, and graphic designing, Rowe is also focused off of the field, and has a good head on his shoulders for the future he has not only in the field but off of it as well. Rowe will be spending the summer training, and preparing for the opportunity he has in front of him at Asheville. Keep all eyes on him as he takes this next steps to one day play in the NFL.

Newly drafted Edmonton Elks’ running back J.P Cimankinda ready for new opportunity “I’m excited to get to work.”

On Tuesday night, Jean-Paul Cimankinda was drafted into the CFL by the Edmonton Elks, and with that draft pick, in the 7th round, Cimankinda not only joined his brother in the CFL who got drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year but a number of athletes from Ottawa as well. Jean-Paul grew up playing football in a football family in Ottawa, and has a true Ottawa story, having had success at all levels from NCAFA through U-Sports, even playing at the University of Ottawa with the Gee Gees in 2021.

With the Gee Gees in 2021, Cimankinda made a name for himself as one of the country’s top running backs. Of course the OUA had Western’s Keon Edwards, and Trey Humes as well as Queen’s Rasheed Tucker who each showcased their talents extremely well over the 2021 season and did so with their versatility, but what J.P was able to do at University of Ottawa as a power back really separated himself from the competition in Canada. In just 6 regular season games with the Gee Gees, Cimankinda, on 76 carries ran for 426 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the season and 99.5 yards per game with over 10 offensive touches. In addition to his regular season totals, in the two post season games, J.P Cimankinda, who could be the best power back in Canada ran for 221 yards and a score on 44 carries while also catching one pass for two yards over the two games. He averaged 5 yards per carry, and helped lead the University of Ottawa to their first playoff victory since the 2014 season.

Getting drafted by the Elks, he enters a running back room filled with talent, which includes long time CFL back James Wilder Jr. With this opportunity in front of him to join Wilder Jr and play in the CFL, Cimankinda shows a lot of excitement and is ready to prove himself at the next level. “I’m really excited.” he told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “I have been working to get to this point for a long time, and it has been a great process. Recently I’ve been training with Iseah (Montgiraud) at Limitless Era where I have gotten a lot of speed training. He is a track coach so he knows a lot about speed and techniques. He has helped me get faster, and really change the way I run which was amazing, and then I also do the strength workouts with Joey (Kwasniewski) with Titan. It’s been a great preparation. I’ve been working out like 5 or 6 days of the week, with school and some work shifts on top of that it has been crazy recently for sure. Happy that I have done all of this though, I feel ready to take the next step.”

That next step for Cimankinda will be next week in Edmonton as he begins his mini camp with the Elks and even though he may say he is excited, excited is definitely an understatement to say the least. “It’ll be amazing to be there.” he said.

Ottawa is a football city. Four from the capital latch onto NFL opportunities

On Saturday, April 30th, Ottawa’s Very Own: Jesse Luketa became the fourth football player from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada to get drafted by an NFL team. Selected with the 256th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Luketa was joined by other Ottawa football players who were signed following the draft to NFL teams. The Penn State star was the only one from Ottawa that was drafted but Luiji Vilain, Patrice Rene and Deionte Knight also got calls from NFL teams.

Just after the draft wrapped up Vilain received a call from the Minnesota Vikings, and like Jesse Luketa with the Cardinals they got a steal, and a diamond in the rough with that contract. Vilain, like Luketa has the potential to be a big name pass rusher in the NFL coming off of a 10 sack season with Wake Forest a year ago. To go with Luiji Vilain’s call from the Vikings, both Patrice Rene and Deionte Knight, who both grew up in Ottawa received calls from NFL teams as well for mini camp invites.

Rene is headed off to the New York Giants for their mini camp following a collegiate career split between the University of North Carolina and Rutgers, while Deionte Knight has been invited to both the Washington Commanders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers mini camps. Knight’s journey was a different one than Luketa, Vilain and Rene though. He is receiving this NFL opportunity from a Canadian University at Western while the others are coming out of power 5 NCAA schools. He had 52 tackles and 10 sacks in 11 games, winning the Vanier Cup with the Western Mustangs last season.

These four players, each with different, and equally inspiring journeys taken are both testaments to the fact that the city of Ottawa truly is a football city. You can say what you want about it. Talk as much as you’d like about the hockey in Canada, but with 6 players from Ottawa now being seen on the NFL stage, and a lot more on deck, it is clear that Ottawa’s football takeover is at the best it’s ever been with so much more to come.

This Tuesday, May 3rd will be the 2022 CFL Draft where even more players from the capital will get professional football opportunities. Players like Katley Joseph, Khadeem Pierre, and J.P Cimankinda are expected to get drafted into the CFL on Tuesday, shining a light on even more talent coming out of the capital.

Ottawa’s Very Own: Jesse Luketa gets name called in 2022 NFL Draft

Since he was young, as a young boy growing up in Ottawa, Jesse Luketa always had dreams of playing in the NFL. He played football with the South Ottawa Mustangs, and Cumberland Panthers in club football as well as the St. Patrick’s Irish in High School while in Ottawa before he followed in the footsteps of now Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Neville Gallimore to cross the border for high school.

Gallimore went to Canada Prep where he had the opportunity to play against a number of American high schools and showcase his talents in front of scouts at the next level. As a friend of his growing up Luketa saw what Gallimore did and wanted to do the same to be able to further his football career. He did so with Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, Pennsylvania and made a name for himself early on there. Luketa was named a four star recruit out of Mercyhurst and had over 30 offers to play football at the division one level.

Among those offers were big name programs like Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Baylor, Indiana, Boston College, and of course Penn State where he ended up playing four seasons, and ultimately starring as a Nittany Lion.

With Penn State, Luketa had quite the career. He played alongside a number of NFL players including defensive stars Micah Parsons, Jayson Oweh, Arnold Ebiketie, and Jaquan Baker. Even with that talent around him, he still managed to stick out as well. With 151 tackles over his four years as a Nittany Lion, one sack, 6 pass deflections and a pick six he solidified his position and role on the defence as a play maker. Luketa’s numbers over his career were great. They are much better than average, but they don’t really stick out as much as some of the players you see drafted in the first round, but some can argue that his film is much better than those drafted before him.

His film demonstrates a lot of different things. If you watch it all in order, coming out of high school Luketa was a linebacker for Penn State. He was impressing everyone at linebacker, and then as time went by, and come his junior year when Micah Parsons left Penn State his role enlarged. He was not only playing linebacker but he was also seen on the defensive line at edge rusher as well. As a senior, he starred at defensive end, and was making play after play at that position. Not only stopping the run, making tackles for loss but also being efficient in the pass game, getting after the quarterback and getting a pick six off of the line. Overall, Luketa’s film is impressive. For that he got a lot of attention and in a result had the invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where his name only got bigger.

At the Senior Bowl he had success all week. He put his name on the map, if it wasn’t already. People were talking about him on a daily and he became the talk of every practice in Mobile, and capping off the week with two sacks in the game, it was a beautiful week for the Ottawa-raised football player. It really put concrete into the fact that he will be an NFL player.

And he now will be an NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals after being drafted with the 256th pick in the 7th round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

With the Cardinals he will be an immediate help, and is bound to make an impact not only with this new team but his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Not only will they be getting immediate help to add to their young defence with similar style player Isaiah Simmons on the roster, but Luketa is easily going to be THE steal of the NFL Draft. Not only because he is a stud on the field but because of the kind of person he is off of the field as well.

At the Senior Bowl when Zlomislic met with Luketa he talked about him and his friend Neville Gallimore and how they manifested these opportunities that they are getting. Luketa said, “It’s just going back to us sitting in a room before we even had the opportunity to even be in the situation we’re in playing in the senior bowl. We spoke it into existence,” he continued, “I’m a firm believer of manifestation. We spoke about us being in this exact situation and for me to be here, although it may be surreal sometimes, it’s expected and I’m extremely grateful to be in this position I’m in right now and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ottawa has to produce moving forward because the talent is there, it’s more so just having that scope transferred over to all of the kids that have the dream to do the same thing we have.”

“It means the world to me.” Redblacks’ RJ Harris on helping the next generation of athletes

In 2015 R.J Harris became a professional athlete. The 6-foot, 195 pound Maryland raised receiver had a tremendous collegiate career at University of New Hampshire, racking up over 5,000 all purpose yards and 40 touchdowns in 49 games played, including 1,551 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns as a senior in 2014 which gathered a lot of interest of NFL teams. He ended up latching onto a roster spot with the New Orleans Saints out of University in 2015 and came back in 2016 after a stint with the Atlanta Falcons as well. Unfortunately neither of those teams had Harris in their long term plans, but one team that did was the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks. After originally being signed by the Toronto Argonauts in Canada, then both the B.C Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Ottawa Redblacks were able to see what R.J Harris could do for them in 2017. He ended up having quite the success out of the gate, playing alongside CFL all-stars Diontae Spencer, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson at receiver, Harris caught 49 passes for 697 yards and two scores as a rookie and continued to have a similar role with the organization for the 2019 and 2021 CFL seasons as well. Going into what will be his fourth season in the CFL, Harris has over 2,000 yards receiving to his name in 44 regular season games, and is in for a big year on the field with the Ottawa Redblacks, but 2022 is not only going to go down as a big year on the field for Harris.

Off of the football field, R.J Harris has become a father of three, two girls and one boy with his fiance, and has established a name for himself as a coach and personal trainer in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In his hometown he has been able to put on training sessions and privately train young football players. It is something that he has been wanting to do for some time now, and has finally been able to get to it over the past couple of years. “I’ve always been around the game in the offseason,” he told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “in college I was involved, and I always try and find a small group of kids to work with and pass knowledge on. I know when I was younger I always took it as a big deal to be around the guys at the next level so I wanted to be that and more. I give these kids an opportunity, they can pick my brain and its even more than just football, grades and stuff outside of football is very important as well and I try and make that known. Being a pillar on and off the field is something I hope to be for a lot of kids coming up.”

These training sessions that he holds began in 2020, and he was originally going to have a big football camp in April of 2020 where a number of his teammates and close friends from football would help coach a large group of young athletes and hold an event for people to gather for. Unfortunately due to the coronavirus pandemic Harris wasn’t able to hold the event, but it didn’t take long for him to get into coaching anyways. He started RJ Harris Skill Development where he began to play the role of a coach in a number of young athletes’ lives, and eventually grew his trainings to be more and more. Talking about the opportunity to coach the next generation of athletes, Harris said, “It means the world, the kids nowadays are the future. They are going to be taking over. I want them to know what to expect. I didn’t have a true mentor that guided me, and it made my past a bit more difficult, and I want to be able to be that mentor for some kids and prepare them for some things that they will come across so they come up on top. 

Recently, Harris was able to take a group of kids he coaches on a University visit to Georgetown University.

When asked about having the chance to do something like that, which can ultimately change a young athlete’s life, R.J Harris said to Jordan Zlomislic, “Exposure equals expansion, getting them out before high school, a lot of them are younger, they’re in middle school and if I can show them the opportunities younger, it lights a fire in them to work more. Give them that exposure, and then put it in their head of what is possible, and show them how to get there on and off the field. They were in awh at these visits and it was truly awesome to see. I want to help them on and off of the football field and these are all opportunities to showcase what is possible, playing and even off of the football field around the game.

R.J Harris will be continuing his coaching whenever he gets the chance to. During his off-seasons he looks to capitalize on each and every opportunity he has, and what he does, with his intentions of helping athletes, will only grow bigger and bigger.

“I feel the best I’ve ever felt.” CFL Draft prospect Jonathan Edouard trains with Ryan Clark’s DB Precision

This year’s CFL Draft seems to be filled with great Canadian talent. It is truly a testament to the growth in football across the country, and most importantly the growth of talent, coaching and interest in football in Canada. Two sets of brothers in both Tre and Tyrell Ford as well as Tyson and Jalen Philpot, alongside players like Deionte Knight, Tyrell Richards, Enock Makonzo, Daniel Adeboboye, Samuel Emilus, Zack Pelehos and Noah Zerr demonstrate the talent found in this year’s CFL Draft extremely well, and it goes on top of John Metchie, Jesse Luketa, Luiji Vilain and Patrice Rene that make their ways to the NFL from Canada as well. One player often forgotten in talks around the 2022 CFL Draft though would have to be American defensive back Jonathan Edouard.

Now people may look at that sentence and question whether or not he should even be in the draft. The CFL Draft is typically for Canadians only. When you take a glance at the draft prospects this year, the vast majority were born and raised in Canada and played University in Canada. Jonathan Edouard on the other hand was born and raised in Orlando, Florida in the United States. The reason why he is in the 2022 CFL Draft is because he has played a part of his University career at Carleton University in Ottawa, and has really shown out in each and every opportunity possible with the Ravens.

Edouard played the role of a lockdown corner and a special teams demon over his career at Carleton following the time he spent at Henderson State University at the division two level. He impressed a number of individuals over that time, and has had his eyes on the CFL since he came to Canada. When he came to Ottawa, first attending Carleton University and playing for the Ravens, he knew he was a trailblazer. The first of his kind, and hopefully the first of many Americans that choose to play University football in Canada for a better education and a path to the CFL. When talking about the CFL Regional Combine which he attended in March in Quebec he told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “I didn’t get the numbers I would have liked to get, but what I did get was an experience of a lifetime.” explaining, “It was dreams to reality for me being at the CFL Combine. I’m an American, I did not grow up in Canada, I have no family there, and I came there with no friends, I’m a guy from Orlando, Florida at the CFL Combine, I’m a trailblazer. The first to do it. It felt great to be there after having my eyes on this opportunity when I got there.” Edouard’s final numbers at the regional combine included a 40 yard dash time of 4.58, 36.50 vertical jump, 6.82 3 cone time and a 4.30 shuttle time. Right out of the gate that day though, weighing in at just 161 pounds, a lot seemed off with Edouard.

As a player that plays physical and has weighed in much higher than that before, it didn’t seem right when Edouard weighed in at just 161 pounds, and it would give you the question whether or not he was 100% at the Combine.

He was 100% healthy. Nothing was wrong with him from the injury point of view, but while in Ottawa he was struggling to eat right and workout consistently like he once did. He wasn’t on schedule preparing for the Combine which set himself off from weighing in well and performing to his highest potential, but with all eyes now on CFL training camp he has fixed his situation. Right after finishing the CFL Combine in March, Jonathan Edouard jumped on a plane to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he is now training with former NFL defensive back Ryan Clark with his DB Precision at Traction Sports. “Its amazing,” Edouard said about the opportunity he has in front of him, “I’ve known Ryan Clark for five years. He’s a friend of mine. He’s big bro, a mentor. I’ve come to train here a couple of times, and it’s awesome to be able to have the opportunity to train at his facility and soak up game from him and the other guys around me.”

Training with Edouard at the Traction Sports facility in Baton Rouge are a number of NFL defensive backs including NFL safety Landon Collins who he has built a good relationship with now, even staying at his house while training.

While training there, he has put on over 13 pounds of muscle, and claims to feel the best he’s ever felt in his life. He said, “I feel great.” in depth, “In the past when I’ve come here to train I have worked too hard and usually came out hurting somewhere. I’m now a few weeks into the training and I feel great everywhere. I feel the fastest I’ve ever felt. I am stronger than ever, and most importantly I feel like I’m ready to ball out.”

The NFL Draft is this weekend, and at 26 years old Jonathan Edouard may be a long shot to be drafted or sign an undrafted contract into the league, but he feels like he can play at that level. Training with some of the best defensive backs in the NFL as well, and looking up to par with them, there’s no saying he wouldn’t be a good pickup by an NFL team, and there should be no questions asked in CFL buildings on CFL Draft night next Tuesday. Edouard is a stud, and he has worked hard every single step of the way, he will continue to work hard and prove his worth at the next level as well.

“This is where we are supposed to be.” Patrice Rene and Luiji Vilain of Ottawa take next step to the NFL

Since they were in middle school they have been working hard to get to this point in their football careers and most importantly their lives. Now, Ottawa-raised football players Patrice Rene and Luiji Vilain get the chance to hear their names called into the NFL this week. Many people ask both of them what it feels like to be in this situation but ultimately Rene says, “This is where we are supposed to be.” during a workout prior to the 2022 NFL Draft which kicks off this Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada, Rene told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “This is the next step of the process.” in detail, “this is what we’ve been working for for so long. People think ‘how does it feel’ well it feels crazy but really its meant to be. This is where we are supposed to be. This is what we worked hard for to do, it is just the next step of the process. We started here (Gridiron Academy) went to high school, from high school we went to college and from college we are going to the league. It’s all written.”

Rene, after first attending St. Peter’s Catholic High School in Orleans for high school and playing there as well as the East Ottawa Generals, Orleans Bengals and the Gridiron Academy 7 on 7 teams went to high school in Alexandria, Virginia at Episcopal School. Following in his footsteps one year later was Luiji Vilain who played North Gloucester Giants and Cumberland Panthers for club ball while attending Lester B Pearson High School in Ottawa and training with Gridiron Academy. The move to the United States for high school was a good move and will go down as “the best decision” made by Patrice Rene as it gathered a lot of interest for the two of them, and others to play at the post secondary level, and more specifically the power 5 level.

For University the two started their careers at Michigan (Luiji Vilain) and North Carolina (Patrice Rene). Out of the gate Rene starred as a defensive back for the Tarheels. Playing as a true freshman and having success early on it looked like it could have been an easy road to the NFL from the University of North Carolina, but things took a turn in 2019 when he tore his ACL, sidelining him for a full season. Just as he got back to 100% and could play once again the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans for his football career. With facilities shut down and a shortened 2020 season nothing seemed normal for Rene’s recovery and return to the football field which then took him to the 2021 season that he spent with the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. Using his last year of eligibility in the NCAA he was able to appear in 5 games and made a total 8 tackles for the Scarlett Knights. The numbers may not be flashy, but showing glimpses of greatness each and every time he stepped on the field throughout the season, and continuing to prove himself, he solidified his spot in the NFL Draft and could be looked at as a late draft pick on Saturday for a team in need of a lock down cornerback.

As for Luiji Vilain, he has a similar story coming out of Ottawa. When Rene talked about being in the NFL Draft he chimed in on the conversation saying, “Ever since we started working out with Vic from Gridiron Academy we knew we were going to be here, its just a matter of keep working.”

Out of high school Vilain was a highly recruited 4-star defensive end. He had 30 plus college offers and it seemed as if every school in the country wanted their hands on him, including the Alabama Crimson Tide. He ended up committing to the Michigan Wolverines, where he would spend the next four years. Over his time as a Wolverine he was able to play alongside a number of great players, and really learn from some of the best in football, but unfortunately he did not see a lot of time on the field. Fighting injuries and playing behind two highly touted NFL Draft prospects Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye he was only able to play in 12 games at Michigan, making 11 total tackles, one sack and forced one fumble. Like Rene, the numbers were not flashy, but Vilain kept working and gathered a lot of interest once he hit the transfer portal last year. He found a new home with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and did not look back when he landed. Vilain made a total 10 sacks on the year as a grad transfer and shook the entire ACC, even having two sacks on Kenny Pickett in the ACC Championship game.

It took time for Vilain to shine, but the 2021 season spent with the Demon Deacons proved that all good things come with time. The time is now for Vilain and Rene.

Watch a workout video and vlog filmed by JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic of both Patrice Rene and Luiji Vilain as they prepare to be NFL players in a YouTube video above, and hear them talk about their journey, as well as the position they are in today as NFL Draft prospects from Ottawa.

The talent from Ottawa is only getting better. With Patrice Rene, Luiji Vilain, and Jesse Luketa solidifying their spots in this year’s NFL Draft, and Katley Joseph, J.P Cimankinda and Deionte Knight making their ways to the CFL in the CFL Draft on May 3rd, the proof is in the pudding.