Winnipeg brothers never played football together – until they got to the CFL

One of the early feel-good stories of the CFL season involves Shai Ross and Alex Taylor, two brothers from Winnipeg who are starting to make their mark as rookies with the Eskimos.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/06/2019 (1445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the early feel-good stories of the CFL season involves Shai Ross and Alex Taylor, two brothers from Winnipeg who are starting to make their mark as rookies with the Eskimos.


Age: 23

Height: 5-10;

Weight: 207 pounds

Age: 23

Height: 5-10;

Weight: 207 pounds

Hometown: Winnipeg

Position: Tailback

High school: St. Paul’s

University: Western Ontario

CFL draft: sixth round (2018)

Taylor, a tailback, is starting the season on Edmonton’s practice roster while Ross, a wide receiver, has locked down a regular roster spot and is expected to return kicks during Friday’s Week 1 showdown with the visiting Montreal Alouettes.

The brothers, who have the same mother and carry their fathers’ surnames, were close growing up but never played together on the same team. Until now.

Taylor was a big star at St. Paul’s High School before going on to a superb U Sports career at the University of Western Ontario, making two appearances (and winning once) in the national championship game with the Mustangs.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Alex Taylor, middle, with the St.Paul's Crusaders AAA football team, celebrates their Anavet Cup victory in 2013.

Ross, meanwhile, discovered football much later.

A devoted skateboarder and basketball player at Dakota Collegiate, he joined the Lancers football team in Grade 12 before playing football in the junior ranks with the St. Vital Mustangs. In 2015, he headed west to suit up with the B.C. Football Conference’s Okanagan Sun.

Tim Smith / Brandon Sun Files Shai Ross in high school playing for the St. Vital Mustangs.

All the while, Taylor pitched the possibility of his older brother playing for the University of Manitoba to Bisons head coach Brian Dobie.

“We always have the debate about who’s faster,” says Taylor. “Growing up, I’d say the sport came to me a little more naturally. It’s not to say I don’t work hard, but he works real hard. He’s just worked so much to get to where he’s at and for me, it’s come a little easier and more natural.


Age: 25

Height: 6-0;

Weight: 180 pounds

Age: 25

Height: 6-0;

Weight: 180 pounds

Hometown: Winnipeg

Position: Wide receiver

High school: Dakota

University: Manitoba

CFL draft: fifth round (2019)

“He’s does a lot of studying, reading a lot of cue cards every night, but in terms of physicality, he’s a bit taller, a bit more lean. And, I guess, a little faster.”

Lukewarm to the game at first, Ross became a student of the sports during his three years with the Bisons while also piling up impressive numbers as a deep threat in the passing game and a returner on special teams.

“Honestly, I always kinda just watched my brother play and would get really excited when he would do well in his games,” says Ross. “I don’t really know (why). It just came to me late. I guess growing up I was a little on the smaller side, so I wasn’t sure if that was the route for me. He was a little bigger than me.”

Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Alex Taylor in his second Vanier Cup finals while playing for the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in 2018.

Taylor also respected his brother’s grit, which was routinely on display after a dislocated left shoulder became a chronic problem. Ross was scheduled for surgery but put it off to play a final season for the Bisons in 2018.

“It would either get the surgery or play the season,” says Ross. “I chose to play the season, knowing I would pretty much have only 5 1/2, six months to get ready for the (CFL scouting) combine. I knew it would take a lot of hard work and a lot of hours but I realized that was what I’d have to do, ultimately, if I was going to be on the field.”

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Shai Ross in 2017, left, played for the U of M Bisons for three seasons and was a deep threat in their passing game as well as a returner on special teams.

Dobie was careful to limit Ross’s chances of aggravating the injury, even though the shoulder would pop out at times. Ross gritted his teeth and continued.

“He wore a red (non-contact) jersey in practice all year and that’s a big reason why his stats weren’t through the roof,” says Dobie. “But that kid would not quit.”

His brother wasn’t surprised.

“Somehow he pulled through and did both,” says Taylor. “He played the season and even though the doctors said he wouldn’t be ready in time, he told them, ‘no.’ He tested their theory and played the season, had his surgery and was ready for the combine, which wasn’t expected at all, but that’s just a testament to how hard he works.”

Mark Blinch / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Shai Ross during on-field tests at the 2019 CFL combine in Toronto in March. Ross attended the combine only 5-1/2 months after having surgery to repair a chronic dislocated left shoulder.

While his brother has earned regular work, Taylor has found himself buried on the Esks’ depth chart.

He’s the lone Canadian tailback on a roster dominated by Americans such as starter C.J. Gable and backups Jordan Robinson, Martese Jackson and Shaq Cooper,but he remains undeterred. Getting work on special teams would be a good first step.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Alex Taylor at the CFL combine during CFL Week at the University of Winnipeg in 2018.

“It’s a matter of me working my way up and getting to an active spot,” says Taylor. “It really depends on how you construct your roster and whether you have room for Canadian running backs. I’m just super-grateful that the Eskimos have given me a chance because really, I’m the only Canadian tailback here.

“I think it’s about sticking to the script. You put your trust in the organization and the coaches…. The best results will come if I stick to the process and take it day by day.”

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Alex Taylor, centre, playing for the Edmonton Eskimos during CFL pre-season action in Winnipeg on May 31, has found himself buried on the Eskimos' depth chart as the lone Canadian tailback on a roster dominated by Americans.

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.


Updated on Thursday, June 13, 2019 7:07 PM CDT: Adds photo

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