Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hitting hard is his cup of Joe

Lobendahn brings the pain to every play

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IF there is such a thing as a Samoan picture dictionary, some folks who play offence in the Canadian Football League now have a suggestion.

Under 'malosi' -- the Samoan word for 'strong' and pronounced ma-low-see -- the publishers might want to include a photograph of Winnipeg Blue Bomber middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn, the Hawaiian born-and-raised hitting machine. And just for added effect there would be blood smeared on his jersey and an opposition running back, quarterback or receiver would be crumpled up at his feet.

"You have to understand something," began Lobendahn after practice Tuesday, "in Hawaii, the way we play football is a lot different than in the States. We have some players who are fast, but we're pretty much hard-hitting guys.

"We like to hit. We never back down. We love to play physical."

And that would just about perfectly describe Lobendahn, Samoan-German by descent and hell bent and heaven sent as a linebacker. Named the CFL's Defensive Player of the Week, Lobendahn was all over the field in last Friday's 49-29 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and finished with eight tackles, two sacks and one special-teams take down.

Now, Bomber fans have seen that kind of effort before from the 27-year-old. It's just that they haven't seen it consistently because of Lobendahn's all-out approach to the game. Let's put it this way: if the man worked in an auto plant he would be the perfect crash-test dummy.

"He's got a high motor," explained Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice. "He runs to the ball, he drives people back and was really around the ball (Friday night) And when we pressure people, he gets there. He's a great player."

"We knew he was a good football player when we were in Saskatchewan and we knew he was a good character guy. And he was here real early: he got here three weeks before training camp because he wanted to start meeting all the coaches. He's a great team guy."

The son of two athletes -- his mom was an adept softball player, his dad played baseball and football -- Lobendahn's pilgrimage from Honolulu to Winnipeg has taken him through the University of Washington to a Detroit Lions training camp (where he met Bomber teammate Ike Charlton) to the Bombers. And now, with all of 20 games under his belt but with Barrin Simpson and Siddeeq Shabazz cut adrift, Lobendahn -- along with Charlton -- is not only the voice of experience in the linebacking corps, but now also a defensive captain.

"I'm a lot more comfortable with the game now that I'm in my third year in the CFL," said Lobendahn. "I've learned a lot with Barrin by my side, when he got hurt and how he taught me what to expect in the CFL game. I'm trying to do the same thing and be a leader out there. I got voted one of the defensive captains and now I've got to step up and show them that I can be a leader."

And he has his fingers crossed he can stay healthy. Just don't go preaching to him about changing his game or gearing it down occasionally to stay off the injured list. That's not how a middle linebacker rolls. Check that, that's not how a Samoan middle linebacker rolls. Better to burn out than to fade away, as the old saying goes.

"This is a contact sport," said Lobendahn with a shrug. "Players get hurt; it's part of the game. Look, football is not for everyone. But for me it's a privilege being out here. It's a blessing and so while I'm out here I'm going to do it to the fullest.

"I always play like my next down could be my last. You have to because you just never know. This game doesn't last forever. And if I tone it down... that's just not who I am."

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2010 C1

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