Defensive Back Antoine Pruneau at the Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp at Keith Harris stadium on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (James Park/Ottawa Citizen)
Photograph by: James Park, Ottawa Citizen
Another spring day in the Capital, another day of breaking new ground for the neophyte Redblacks organization.
Over at TD Place sports field, where a football stadium progresses toward the CFL home opener July 18, a lucky loonie was being embedded in the asphalt beneath the field, at mid-field. Not just any loonie, but a 1976 silver dollar donated by Ottawa Rough Riders fan Scott Bradley, whose idea it was to honour Ottawa’s last Grey Cup champions in this way.
How cool is that, not being afraid to admit it’s been 38 years between championships for Ottawa CFL football? Maybe the hockey Maple Leafs ought to find a 1967 coin.
At the same time as Riders kicker Gerry Organ was presiding over that Lansdowne ceremony, several blocks away more than 40 young hopefuls were strutting their stuff at the club’s first rookie camp, at Carleton University.
Here, too, they break new ground. From previous CFL gigs, Redblacks coaches have presided over dozens of training camps and rookie camps, but never one for a start-up team. Different animal, as Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell told me after the session ended, just as summer students on campus were thinking about lunch.
How many of these Redblacks rookies have a shot to play this season?
“It’s new to me because we’re a brand new team, this is the biggest rookie camp that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Campbell, who has coached defence and special teams in the CFL since 1999, with stops in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary.
“So that’s an interesting question, but there’s definitely going to be a good, solid handful of guys that are going to be dressing for games this year and that’s what we’re trying to determine.”
PRIME TIME PRUNEAU
One of the rookies with the best odds of being in Redblacks colours this summer is 6-foot defensive back Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa’s first selection in the recent CIS draft. So intent was general manager Marcel Desjardins on landing Pruneau, he traded up to get Pruneau fourth overall (Ottawa had already dealt its first overall pick to the Stampeders for centre Jon Gott).
Desjardins loves Pruneau’s versatility and speed. He can play DB, free safety, linebacker and returns kicks. In Montreal, they’re still talking about Pruneau’s 119-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal while playing for the Carabins last season.
“Antoine runs a 4.3 in the 40 (yard dash), and those guys are hard to find at any level of football – NCAA, CIS, CFL and even the NFL,” Desjardins said, when he signed Pruneau to a contract this week.
Campbell has had some “good talks” with Pruneau and already knows he’s a quick study.
“He’s very sharp, you can tell he understands the game, we’ve lined him up at one position so far (DB), but he’s a guy that wants to learn multiple positions,” Campbell says. “He’s a guy that looks like he’s going to keep getting better and better each day and if that happens, he’s definitely going to help us.”
Pruneau didn’t look out of place among an athletic group at Carleton’s Keith Harris field Thursday. Pruneau himself was impressed by the calibre.
“It’s pretty good, man,” he said. “What’s nice is that we’re not acting like it’s a competition, we’re working together and we want to get better, to try to make the team.”
While working on a degree in physical education at the University of Montreal, Pruneau aims to be a teacher or coach when he’s done football. First, though, he can expect a long career as one of Ottawa’s most pliable players. Plug him in anywhere.
“I played some linebacker at the University of Montreal, so I like that position, but wherever I can get on the field I like to play,” Pruneau said. “I’d like to show the coaches I can be on the line and step up with those guys, cover some receivers out there. We’ll see.”
While residing at Carleton during rookie camp, and the main camp (a league labour deal willing), Pruneau is enjoying having his meals prepared, unlike college life.
“I may even gain a few pounds here, and I need that,” he says.
At 195 pounds, Pruneau would like to be 200, so he can play more positions, go figure, including special teams for his new team.
Growing up in Montreal, Pruneau was an Alouettes fan. His first sports t-shirt was a Mike Pringle No. 27, in honour of the Als great running back.
“But now it’s the Red and Blacks, that’s totally fine,” Pruneau says.
Even his pals back home are climbing on the bandwagon, adds Pruneau.
“My friends all want (Redblacks) jerseys and everything, so I think it’s going to cost me.”
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