May 18, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
HENOC Muamba finished a breakout season with a career game in a win over the Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium last weekend.
And now the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker has a second CFL Canadian Player of the Week honour to show for what turned out to be a truly remarkable season for the second-year pro.
Muamba was named on Monday by the CFL as the week's top Canadian player for a 10-tackle, one-sack performance in a 19-11 Bombers win over the Alouettes in the farewell to Canad Inns Stadium on Saturday.
It was the second time in six weeks Muamba had been named the league's top Canadian and follows last week's announcement he is also Winnipeg's nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian -- all of it indicative of the huge strides the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL draft made during the 2012 season.
Muamba began the season as the backup at middle linebacker to Pierre-Luc Labbe but he quickly played himself into the starting job and by season's end finished with the second most tackles on the team with 65, plus a team-high 20 special teams tackles, three sacks and a league-leading five forced fumbles.
"I feel like I definitely improved from the start of the season to the end of the season and from week to week as well," Muamba said Sunday as he cleaned out his locker at Canad Inns Stadium. "I expected to get some playing time this year and I came in prepared to do that.
"It took a few games but I found some patience in life. And when it came time to make some plays to give the coaches some confidence in me, I think I did that."
Muamba's performance paid off a big gamble the Bombers coaching staff had made at the start of the season to make the middle linebacker position a non-import spot so that they could go with an all-import defensive line.
The front-four mostly delivered, registering the second most sacks in the league and stifling the running game, and Muamba's performance would suggest he has the potential to be a 'ratio changer' for the club for years to come.
The job will get more challenging next season, however. "My name's out there a little bit now," said Muamba, "and it's definitely going to be a little harder. It's not going to be the same as this year.
"It's going to be a lot of working on the mental game... I feel like sometimes this year I was a little too aggressive when I could have been more passive and I was passive when I should have been more aggressive. I need to work on reacting a little better."
A soft-spoken, deeply religious man, there were some observers who wondered whether Muamba had the kind of mean streak and internal menace that so often seems to go with the game's top middle linebackers.
So, are you mean enough? "Why don't you step on the field with me," offered Muamba, "and you can find out for yourself."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2012 D2