Sunday, June 16, 2024

Redblacks Lucas Cormier adds 20 pounds and grows in role as leader

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The little things matter a lot to all teams, but especially teams like the Ottawa Redblacks.

Taking care of the small details could be the difference between them making the playoffs or falling short of that goal for a fifth straight season.

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Or, from a more optimistic viewpoint, the difference between finishing in first place — and getting a bye, as well as home-field advantage in the East Division final — or in second and having to win a couple of games to get to the Grey Cup.

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In 2023, exactly half of the Redblacks 14 losses were by a converted touchdown or less, which suggests the little things bit them in the butt a few times.

In last week’s pre-season opener against Hamilton, a lineup of mostly backups or soon-to-be-released Redblacks took care of business more often than not.

One of the standout moments for head coach Bob Dyce was delivered by Lucas Cormier, the team’s 10th overall pick in the 2023 CFL draft and a guy whose arrow is pointing straight up.

Cormier, who played in five games last year, was one of Ottawa’s best defensive players while starting at the weak side linebacker position in the 31-22 victory.

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He had a total of four tackles, including three on defence and one on special teams.

“The biggest thing is he’s evolving as a leader,” Dyce said. “We had a situation where someone didn’t go out on field goal and Lucas was on my hip right away. He stepped up and ran in, and took the position that he’s not always playing, but he knew exactly what to do.

“Different people lead in different ways, and I think as he continues to evolve he’s got a very, very bright future. He’s got to continue getting used to the physicality down there in the box, but he’s not shying away from it. He’s doing a really good job.”

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Cormier, who’s from Sackville, N.B., came to Ottawa as a star defensive back out of Mount Allison.

After the Redblacks made him the first pick of the second round, GM Shawn Burke told Postmedia’s Tim Baines that Cormier is “a strong kid with a great personality. He has an aggressive mindset and plays hard all the time. We see him maybe sliding into a linebacker position for us; we’ll try him out there. He’s got great speed, he’s a great tackler, he’s a tough kid.”

The positional transition kicked into full gear after his rookie season, when the team asked Cormier to add some weight over the winter.

He dutifully obliged, putting on an extra 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.

“I always lifted before and it really came down to just getting the right trainer, eating an extra meal and obviously eating really, really good food, high protein and high volume,” said Cormier, who checked into camp at 221 pounds. “High volume lifting has been a huge part as well. It was a pretty intense off-season, I would say my most intense offseason. It feels good to see it pay off.”

Getting that big, that quick isn’t an easy thing to do for a well-conditioned 23-year-old athlete.

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“Yeah, especially because for most of my life, I’ve been very lean, and typically I’d put on five pounds at a time,” Cormier said. “I wasn’t putting that much weight on at once. But, yeah, definitely at times, you know, it was a little bit up and up and down, back and forth.

“But it’s a good feeling. I feel like the weight that I put on was really, really solid weight. I was talking to coach Dyce when I showed up and I truly meant it when I said I feel the exact same as last year, only with an extra 20 pounds.”

It’s unlikely Cormier will be a starter this season — penciled in as the WIL guy is American Frankie Griffin — but expect to see him on the field for a good share of snaps as a linebacker.

Cormier will also be a key player on special teams.

“I don’t want to put any limitations on Lucas,” Dyce said. “Hopefully he becomes a CFL all star.”

And continues to grow in his role as a leader.

“That is a natural feeling for me,” Cormier said. “Obviously going up through minor football in high school and into university, I felt like I assumed a leadership role very well. It was cool for the pre-season game to see that little bit of trust coach Dyce put on me, for that game and through the week coming up.

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“It gives me a little bit of confidence going in that theI coach trusts me with that leadership role a little bit, and I can just kind of I can be that natural leader I feel I can be.”

As such, he arrived for his second pro season in the proper frame of mind.

“Whenever I show up to any camp is, I want to compete just like anybody else here, I wanted to show up and earn my spot,” Cormier said. “Just because I was here last year doesn’t mean anything for this year. There’s a lot of turnover from team to team in this league, and they can bring in anybody. I wanted to show up and definitely prove myself, show that I can fill that spot guys like Adam Auclair were in last year.

“I feel like I’ve made a solid point of doing that so far.”

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GOING DEEP

While adding a couple of Americans in DT Gerald Willis III and DB Tywan Francis, the Redblacks released five players on Tuesday, including a couple of American defensive linemen — edge rusher Jermaine McDaniel and tackle Jamare Edwards — the two players who created the lone turnover in Saturday’s exhibition. They also were both injured in the same game. Tough timing for a rookie. “You know the old saying: It’s hard to make the club in the hot tub,” said Dyce, who spoke highly of McDaniel in the early days of camp. “It’s a shame, Jermaine is a great kid, a great young man who brings a lot of effort and a lot of energy to the team. Just regrettably the the type of injury he had that wasn’t going to be able to really compete and get that opportunity. That’s why it’s such a fleeting sport, you’ve got to make the most of it your opporunities.” Also let go were American receiver Dillon Stoner and American defensive back Kalon Gervin, as well as Canadian kicker Michael Domagala. “He knew it was a tough spot,” Dyce said of the former Carleton Raven, who showed he can punt as well as kick, but wasn’t going to unseat incumbents Richie Leone and Lewis Ward. “But I’ll tell you what, I have nothing but positive things to say about Mike Domagala. I fully believe, I truly believe that Mike should be kicking in this league. He is a pro and he fit so well in our group, playing for (Ward) when he was hurt last year. The way he practiced, the way he prepares, just does an outstanding job, and I really hope people recognize and watch the films of Mike, because he’s kicking better than he ever has in his career and the game means a whole lot to him. Obviously I wish him all the best.”

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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