'Just miss hitting people': Blue Bombers geared up to take the field again

The long wait is almost over for CFL players and their fans with just 51 more sleeps until the Winnipeg Blue Bombers play their first game since 2019.

By the time the season opener rolls around at the beginning of August, it’ll be more than 600 days since the Bombers won the 107th Grey Cup in what was the last game played in the CFL.

The 2020 season was shelved amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bombers players are chomping at the bit to get back in pads and back on the field again.

“Elated, super excited, relieved,” Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld said. “And probably just a range of emotions, but ultimately all optimistic and happy. So, I can’t wait to get back going.”

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“We’re all obviously very excited to just get back to work,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “Probably a sense of relief with things finally moving forward, and obviously, like you said, very excited as we approach camp.”

Now that the dates are set, Bombers defensive end and the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Willie Jefferson can’t wait to get back in the trenches with his teammates.

“Just seeing my guys again. I haven’t seen anybody except Jackson (Jeffcoat),” said Jefferson. “Just to get back to seeing my guys, talking to my guys face-to-face, like hanging out and stuff like that. That’s going to be pretty much probably the biggest thing.”

The players will now have to ramp up their workouts with less than a month until the start of training camps. And their fitness and conditioning levels will probably vary greatly, depending on the local health restrictions in their area.

“It’s been a little difficult in Ontario with the training just because things have been shut down here for quite a while,” Collaros said. “You make do with what you have, and I have a great trainer. So we’ve been able to work things out.”

Collaros wasn’t even sure this day would ever come as the 32-year-old even considered retirement during the lengthy shutdown.

“Nobody in our league is making money that you can retire on,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I probably didn’t think about it every day. ‘What if this doesn’t happen? Should I look into doing something else? What’s my next step?’ kinda thing. So, I think it’s something every athlete thinks about, especially in a profession like football.”

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As a linebacker, Adam Bighill’s usual office is in the backfield, but he’s been working as an investment advisor while the CFL has been on pause, feeling more like the office linebacker from the old Terry Tate Superbowl commercials.

“I honestly just miss hitting people,” said Bighill. “I’m used to hitting my teammates in day-to-day and then I go to the office and I can’t do that. So I send around office videos of Terry Tate, the office linebacker, let them know if things get out of control and maybe I’ll come back and let them know that they got to get back in line.”

The Bombers season opener is scheduled for Aug. 5 with a Grey Cup rematch against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at IG Field.

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