Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Perseverance prevails for Bombers' late-round draft pick

Aram Eisho has overcome plenty of obstacles on his path to a shot at the CFL

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Bombers' late-round draft pick Aram Eisho has overcome plenty of obstacles on his path to a shot at the CFL.

COURTESY OF CAMERON DUNLOP / MCMASTER UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF ATHLETICS & RECREATION Enlarge Image

Bombers' late-round draft pick Aram Eisho has overcome plenty of obstacles on his path to a shot at the CFL.

For all the remarkable and extraordinary elements to Aram Eisho's life story, the one that is perhaps most remarkable and extraordinary is just how unremarkable and ordinary he appears on the surface.

Eisho was drafted on Tuesday by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the seventh round of the CFL Draft. There were 55 players chosen ahead of Eisho, and just nine players selected after him, in the draft's dying moments usually reserved for afterthoughts, long shots and project players.

Why so late? Because, like we said, on the surface everything there is to see about Eisho screams ordinary. On the surface.

"He didn't test very well, which shied everyone away from him," Bombers GM Kyle Walters said of the McMaster Marauders linebacker Tuesday night. "He's just not the most physically gifted tester you're going to see. Which is why he fell that far."

But? "He is a blood and guts kind of player," Walters continued. "When you put the film on him and just watch him run around and make plays, he is a tough-as-hell football player that will run to the ball and make plays and smash you...

"He is a pain in the ass to play against and he's going to come in here and not be intimidated by anybody. And probably get into a bunch of fights in training camp and not mind that at all."

Now, if all this sounds familiar to Bombers fans -- unimposing physical specimen overcomes shortcomings with pure heart (and picks a few fights along the way) -- it should: the club's current diminutive chief executive officer parlayed one of the most unimposing bodies in pro football history into an 11-year CFL career and the league record for special teams tackles.

Go figure Wade Miller's team would be the first willing to take a shot on a guy like Eisho. And go figure Eisho would be thrilled to be coming to an underdog team in Winnipeg that is going to have to defy long odds if they're going to have success on the field this season.

The Bombers and Eisho are a perfect match, because when you scratch down a little below the surface, it turns out overcoming long odds is something Eisho has been doing all his life: escaping war-torn Iraq as a child; scratching out an existence as a refugee in a new -- and very foreign -- country; quitting school and going to work to support his family when his parents became ill, his father terminally; and then borrowing money to start university at the advanced age of 21 because that's what the children of immigrant families do -- they go to university so they can have lives better than their parents.

Summer's coming

Against that backdrop, cracking a CFL roster out of the seventh round this summer is going to seem like child's play to Eisho.

"If Mr. Walters is looking for a fighter, I will get into all the fights he wants. If he wants me to accompany him to the bar and keep him safe, I will do that too. Whatever he needs, I'm there," Eisho said in a phone interview Wednesday.

"If Winnipeg needs a scrapper and a fighter, I've been a scrapper and a fighter all my life. I fought and clawed every step and for every single opportunity and achievement I've gotten in my life. So this is nothing different."

Born in northern Iraq to a family that was part of the tiny Christian minority in that perpetually war-torn country, Eisho and his mother and older sister fled while he was still a child, first to Greece and then to Canada when he was six years old.

His father -- an Iraqi soldier who fought in his country's long and particularly brutal war against Iran -- followed afterward and together the family lived in southern Ontario and embraced the immigrant life so common in Canada, scraping by on the wages of manual labour and holding tight at all times.

It was a hard life, but one that was better than they knew previously. And they were grateful for it.

Then, in a freak of simultaneous tragedy, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer and his mother was in a serious car accident. Suddenly Eisho was the lone breadwinner in the family, quitting high school a few credits short so he could work construction by day while playing junior football with the Hamilton Hurricanes by night.

He worked hard, really hard, to support his family. But Eisho played even harder, getting named three times in a row, from 2008-10, as the Canadian Junior Football League's defensive player of the year -- the first time a CJFL player turned that particular natural hat trick.

Promise to late father

Eisho was offered a tryout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he says, but he chose instead to honour a promise to his father, who died in 2010 at the age of 54, that he would complete his education. So Eisho finished those missing high school credits, got accepted to McMaster University and promptly helped lead his hometown Marauders to the Vanier Cup in his rookie season in 2011. He was named the game's defensive MVP.

All of which is a roundabout way of pointing out Eisho has not only beaten long odds in his life, he has beaten them senseless and then choked them out.

Know a team that could use a guy like that?

There's a reason why Eisho wasn't drafted until the seventh round. And there's a reason why players who get drafted near the end of a draft don't usually end up making the final roster in the CFL.

But here's the thing: While the Bombers will undoubtedly have more talented players and more physically gifted players at next month's training camp, they won't have one who is more grateful for the opportunity.

That counts, too. Or at least it should.

"I'm so happy I got drafted and so happy that Winnipeg picked me," Eisho said. "It's just so nice to know there's a team that wants me. This has been my lifelong dream and it's great to have that feeling that there's someone out there who wants me."

The question now is whether the Bombers will want him enough to keep him. Eisho knows the odds are against him, but then when has it ever been otherwise?

"Every road I've ever taken in my life has always been the long road," said Eisho. "It's never been the easy way for me. So I know what it takes and I know what I have to do to get there."

Bet against him at your peril.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2014 D1

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