RANJI Atwall was known as a great leader in the locker-room and in the huddle.
His presence was not only felt by his large frame but also by the strong work he did on the football field. When news broke the former University of Manitoba Bisons player tested positive for anabolic steroids, it sent waves of disappointment and surprise past his former teammates.
Atwall, a defensive-line starter for the Bisons in 2012 and 2013 who has since graduated, tested positive while taking part in a CFL regional combine earlier this year. It was just the second time a Bisons athlete has tested positive for doping and the first time in more than a decade.
Veteran players who spent a lot of time with him had no idea.
"It was kind of one thing where you never like to hear that, especially a teammate of mine, a guy I respect a lot -- and still respect a lot," said fifth-year defensive lineman Lauren Kroeker.
"He made a decision, it wasn't a good one and now he's suffering the consequences for that."
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports said Thursday Atwall admitted to the offence, waived his right to a hearing and in doing so accepted a four-year ban from the CIS.
Kroeker said he is against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, saying it is not the way to promote a level playing field in sports.
It wasn't Atwall's first positive test. In 2011, he tested positive for cannabis while he was a member of the Vancouver Island Raiders in the Canadian Junior Football League. Current Bison Danny Turek remembers competing against Atwall during their junior years when Turek was a member of the Okanagan Sun.
There was nothing that could have led Turek to think his former teammate was cheating.
"I had no idea, he was just a good athlete," Turek said. "I would have never, ever have called him doing something like that... He was always the sack leader out in the BCFC (British Columbia Football Conference). I would never have guessed that he would even need anything like that to advance his game, he was just a good athlete in general."
Turek has spent two training camps with the B.C. Lions and hopes to one day turn his university career into a professional one after his remaining two years of CIS eligibility. The 23-year-old slotback is not about to throw a away a lifetime of hard work on illegal substances.
"I don't understand why guys do it," Turek said. "You put in so much time and effort, everyone is here, there's no point in cheating...
"At the end of the day I don't agree with it because everyone else here is doing work and putting in the hours in the gym, doing the off-season training. It's not worth it for your health."