Monday, June 17, 2024

Former TD Place security guard chosen by Redblacks as a team captain

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When Lewis Ward speaks, the rest of the Ottawa Redblacks listen.

Apparently, so do CFL rule makers.

First, the most recent news …

Entering his sixth season as the Redblacks kicker, Ward was chosen by teammates as one of the club’s captains for the first time, head coach Bob Dyce told Postmedia following Saturday’s practice at Mont Bleu Stadium in Gatineau.

The rest of the captains will be revealed in the upcoming days.

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“When it comes to leadership, you have to find it in numerous ways on your team,” said Dyce. “Some guys are the vocal leaders, some guys are going to let their physical play set the tone.

“The way Lewis approaches the game, his teammates can’t help but respect how he does it, and when he does say something they really take heed. He’s been an all-star in this league, and he brings a confident attitude people can feed off. The guys really respect him.”

Told of his coach’s comments and asked how it feels to have such respect from his peers, the 31-year-old former TD Place security guard was clearly moved.

“It gives me little goosebumps to think about it,” Ward said while glancing at the proof on his right arm. “I’m honoured that everyone thought that of me. I can’t say that I’m a rah-rah guy in the locker room … there are definitely some places I could probably be more vocal … speaking to guys, speaking to groups, things like that … so that’s something I’m working on. But some of my strengths obviously are my mentality, my emotion, how I conduct myself.

“I tell some of the guys I take it personally, that If you follow me and watch me, how I go about things, how I keep my composure and try to be positive as much as I can … if that bleeds into some of the guys, I think we can be very successful.”

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Meanwhile, it appears Ward’s words, as well as those from his brethren around the league, prompted commissioner Randy Ambrosie to issue a statement early Friday evening regarding the use of microchip-implanted footballs.

Effective immediately, it read, teams will no longer be mandated to use them for kicking plays.

“However, because some kickers have expressed a desire to continue using them, teams will decide at the beginning of the game whether to use microchip-implanted balls or technology-free balls for the duration of the contest,” stated Ambrosie. “The league has tested these footballs using robotic technology and current CFL players.

While there is no definitive evidence to suggest their use impacts performance in any manner, we are taking this step out of respect for kickers who do not yet feel comfortable using them. The CFL will continue to test microchip-implanted balls. Their mandated usage will be revisited ahead of the 2025 season.

“Today’s decision in no way impacts our commitment towards the collection and usage of in-game performance metrics,” Ambrosie added. “The CFL remains steadfast in its approach of using data to better inform, engage and entertain current and future fans.”

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While the plan for the microchips was largely for tracking purposes that enhance the broadcast of games — measuring things like passing velocity and running speed — it took only the season opener Thursday in Winnipeg for kickers to voice their complaints.

After missing field goals from 38 and 40 yards, as well as a convert attempt of 32 yards, Blue Bombers’ Sergio Castillo said that while the chips don’t seem to affect punts or spiral throws, balls that travel end-over-end fly in unpredictable patterns.

“I don’t know where to aim,” said Castillo, the Redblacks kicker in 2016. “Every time I’m out there, I’m literally praying the Rosary. Every single guy is opposed to this. We’re all against it. No. 1 it affects the team. It’s a momentum killer. And two, we could lose our jobs over this.”

Ward and Redblacks punter Richie Leone were among the ball booters that immediately supported Castillo on social media.

“It’s unfortunate it had to come to the situation that it did,” Ward said Saturday. “We had a game where a player missed a few kicks, and we believed as a kicking group it was mostly due to the footballs. I mean, we’re not perfect. We’re going to miss kicks, right? But this was a conversation that we’ve been having back and forth with kickers, the PA, the league … we had good conversation for quite a few weeks. We were sent out a survey and we believe that all the kickers voted in favour of not using the footballs. And then Wednesday night before the game they implemented that we’re going to use those footballs.

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“It was a little frustrating, I think for everyone. It kind of caught us by surprise, because we felt that we were in an agreement that at this moment, the footballs weren’t ready for in game use. There’s just something about these footballs that are different. Myself, in camp, experienced a lot of different ball flights, which were very inconsistent for me. Same with a lot of kickers around the league.”

Using non-chipped footballs on Friday night, Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes went 6-for-6 on field goal tries in a 32-24 victory over Hamilton.

“You kind of see the difference right there,” said Ward. “It’s upsetting that Sergio had a bad night to get there, but I think the league has made the right decision and hopefully we can move forward in the right direction.”

Ward, whose 2023 season ended prematurely with a torn pectoral that required surgery, was good on 4-of-6 field goal attempts in the pre-season. He is expected to again one of the top kickers in the league in 2024.

“I’ve worked with Lewis a long time, and I’ve worked with Sergio in the past as well,” said Dyce, who was formerly the Redblacks special teams coach. “One thing I know about those guys is they’re extreme technicians in their field. If they say that the chip is affecting the flight of the ball, I wholeheartedly believe that would be the case. This is not a matter of anyone trying to cover up for a performance or anything like that. This was talked about long before and we’ve been monitoring it through training camp. It’s just the fact of the matter.

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“I believe the league when they say they’ve done their studies, but these guys feel the ball off their foot every day and when they notice things I wholeheartedly believe and support them.”

Ottawa Redblacks
Fans line up for Ottawa Redblacks player autographs following Saturday’s open practice at Mont Bleu Stadium in Gatineau. Photo by Don Brennan /POSTMEDIA

GOING DEEP
An iconic moment in Redblacks history is being commemorated with a bobblehead: former centre Jon Gott celebrating a 2018 touchdown by chugging a cold beer in the end zone. At $29.14 (before taxes) it should be a hot item … Was the Blue Bombers’ embarrassing, 27-12 loss to the Alouettes in the season opener on home turf not the worst thing that could have happened for the Redblacks? Won’t Winnipeg want to redeem itself in a big way when providing the opposition at Ottawa’s home opener on Thursday? Dyce thinks that’s a “funny way” of looking at it. “Coach (Mike) O’Shea and that team is going to be extremely prepared like they are every week,” he said. “They put everything they can into every game that they have. So we know we have to prepare for a team that’s been in the Grey Cup four years in a row. But it’s really all about us and what we do when we’re on the field. We’ve got to take care of our business, play by play, and that’s what we’re focusing on.” … A few hundred fans were at Mont Bleu Stadium in Gatineau to watch the Redblacks open practice. “It’s been a while since we’ve been here and it’s great,” said Dyce. “Even the welcome just walking into the stadium. They’re excited to have us here and we’re excited to be here. I know the number of fans we have here, so it’s great to bring our practice to them so they can enjoy, not having to cross the bridge or anything like that. They’re a very gracious host, it’s good facility to run a practice and so it’s a really good experience coming over here.”

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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