Thursday, July 18, 2024

Party Starter Adarius Pickett looks to ignite Redblacks vs. Bombers

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Adarius Pickett, signed as a free agent in early February, will be front and centre when the Redblacks open their Canadian Football League season Thursday.

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The Ottawa Redblacks’ season-opening bash has already begun for the guy who calls himself The Party Starter.

Adarius Pickett, signed as a free agent by the Ottawa Redblacks in early February, will be front and centre when his team opens its Canadian Football League season Thursday (7:30 p.m.) against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

It’s not only that Pickett, who was named one of his team’s defensive captains Monday, is a very good football player — the 27-year-old defensive back/linebacker was a league all-star when he had six sacks and finished second in the CFL in tackles (124) last season while playing for the Toronto Argonauts — he’s also got plenty of energy to spare.

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The versatile five-foot-11, 210-pounder, who was runner-up to Mathieu Betts for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, also led the Argos in special teams tackles (19).

“Football is a game of energy,” said Pickett. “I want to make sure I’m turning up the energy so everybody can feel it and turn it up, too. I want them to be excited they’re on the football field. This is a game, it’s fun. A lot of us have been playing since we were kids.”

For Pickett, it’s not just a game-day thing; his energy is always high.

“I’m the same guy every day,” he said. “If you walk into the weight room in the morning, you’re going to see me dancing, fired up, bringing energy, ready to go. If you see me in practice, I’m flying around, having fun. I’m enjoying myself when I’m playing the game of football. Game day is just me being me. So, it’s no different.”

Pickett had another nickname when he was in high school: Pick Six Pickett.

Coming out of UCLA, he had looks with the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. Thinking his pro football career may be over, he joined UCLA as a volunteer analyst, then became a defensive graduate assistant coach.

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The Montreal Alouettes came calling in 2021 and Pickett’s time as a football player had new life. Over two seasons in Montreal, he had 96 defensive tackles, 19 special teams tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and a touchdown.

“I got an opportunity,” said Pickett. “I’m thankful to step onto the field every day. There was a time when I wasn’t doing this. I’m not taking any of the moments for granted because I understand what it’s like not to have football.”

Asked about the letdown of being cut from NFL teams, he said: “It was hard. Your whole life if you’re one of the best in whatever you’re doing, you’re being told you’re going to be successful. You get to the NFL, you don’t always see that. That’s the frustrating part. You might have the ability, but there are a lot of politics.

“Mentally, it’s challenging. You might be a star in high school, you might be a star in college. But when you get to the next level, it’s like you’re starting over. That other stuff doesn’t matter anymore. You have to remember who you are and who you’ve always been.

“When I started coaching, I felt I was done with playing. I was focusing on making the next generation of players better. I definitely felt the impact I was having. I’m big on motivating and inspiring.”

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Pickett is hoping Redblacks fans bring the noise Thursday against the Bombers, who fell 27-12 to the Alouettes last week.

“When you get fan support, it’s big for the players,” said Pickett. “You want the fans yelling so loud (opposing players) come in and are saying, ‘Those fans are crazy, we can’t hear anything when we’re on offence.’ We want to create an atmosphere where fans want to come watch us play. It’s on us to give them a show every week.”

THE INJURY REPORT: Blue Bombers star running back Brady Oliveira (knee) hasn’t practised this week, but still hasn’t been ruled out of Thursday’s game; he’s listed as questionable on the injury report … Redblacks DB Brandin Dandridge (knee), who opens the season on the six-game injured list, is still a few weeks away from playing. Another DB who was expected to start, Alijah McGhee (ankle), hasn’t practised this week and won’t play Thursday. Veteran defensive back Winston Rose, who played for the Redblacks in 2017, has been signed by Ottawa. Rose, who has played 70 games over the past five seasons in B.C. and Winnipeg, won’t play this week. A day earlier, the Redblacks signed Sherrod Baltimore. Said Redblacks coach Bob Dyce: “It’s beneficial whenever you can bring in veteran experience and add them to your room. They’re brought in more as an insurance type of thing.” … Defensive end Bryce Carter (quad), who had been limited Sunday and Monday, had a full practice Tuesday and will play. Safety Justin Howell (calf) won’t play this week, but isn’t far away from returning.

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THE END AROUND: Along with Pickett, other Redblacks captains chosen after a vote of players: Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, QB Dru Brown,  receiver Dominique Rhymes, kicker Lewis Ward and punter Richie Leone … Coming off a Week 1 bye, the Redblacks are anxious to get at it. “You want to get out there and play that first game of the regular season,” said Dyce. “The anticipation has been building for two weeks. It’s kind of like keeping thoroughbreds in the stable. These guys are champing at the bit. They’re excited to get the opportunity to play against a very good team, in front of their home fans.” … All six CFL.ca contributors have picked the Bombers to beat the Redblacks … The CFL.ca power rankings have Ottawa ranked eighth, ahead of only Hamilton. Winnipeg dropped from second a week ago to fifth.

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