Could be go time for Kolankowski

Bombers OL to get first CFL start Friday

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Chris Kolankowski hasn’t started a single game in his four-year CFL career.

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Chris Kolankowski hasn’t started a single game in his four-year CFL career.

But with starting Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Michael Couture missing Monday’s practice after leaving the second quarter of Friday’s 19-12 road victory over the Ottawa Redblacks with an injury, Kolankowski’s number might be finally getting called later this week. The backup offensive lineman, who was chosen in the sixth round of the 2016 CFL Draft by the Toronto Argonauts out of York University, finished last week’s contest in Ottawa and worked with the starters on Monday as the undefeated Bombers prepare to host the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats at IG Field on Friday for Week 3.

“You know, like a lot of guys in the CFL, (it’s been) quite a journey… If the opportunity comes this week, it does. If not, Mike’s ready to go. My job is to get ready for the game just in case,” Kolankowski told reporters on Monday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Chris Kolankowski, gets some reps in at practice Monday.

“You never want to see a starter go down, especially a centre who keeps everything together on the line. But it’s next man up.”

Kolankowski has had to go the extra mile to even have a shot at being the next man up. The 30-year-old from Etobicoke, Ont.,was released after a pair of seasons with the Argos and spent the entire 2019 campaign out of the CFL. His pro football career was on the ropes, but Kolankowski fought to keep it alive. He ended up making the trip down to Cincinnati, Ohio in September of that year for a Bombers free agent camp. The Blue and Gold liked enough of what they saw to sign him for 2020, which ended up being cancelled owing to the pandemic. The six-foot-one, 305-pounder was signed again for 2021, but didn’t play in any games. Kolankowski started last season on the practice squad before dressing for the final two regular season games, as well as the 108th Grey Cup victory in Hamilton over the Ticats as offensive lineman Tui Eli couldn’t make the trip because of his vaccination status.

“It’s not like hockey or anything where you can play pickup when you’re done. When you’re done, you’re done. It’s just as simple as that,” said Kolankowski.

“I didn’t want to stop playing. I wasn’t ready to get a real job. I got a couple real jobs in that year of free agency and that helped motivate me more and (made me) want to get back and play as many years as I still can. I knew I had something left still, so I kept working for it.”

In typical Mike O’Shea fashion, the head coach didn’t provide an injury update on Couture. It’s a significant blow if Couture, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 CFL Draft, is forced to miss some time as he’s coming off an impressive season where he was named to the CFLPA’s 2021 all-star team.

Right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick wore Couture’s No. 59 practice jersey on Monday.

“Mike’s huge. As a unit, we don’t really put anyone on pedestals, but Mike’s been great for us,” said guard Patrick Neufeld.

“He’s still going to be involved with whatever’s going on with him, but yeah, whoever’s in there at centre is going to be great for us… (Kolankowski) went in and played well right away. He was great with the calls, played really physical, and you could tell he was having fun being back out there. It’s great playing the game you love and being out there with a bunch of guys who love doing the same thing. So, having him step in and be able to do that was awesome.”

Quarterback Zach Collaros admitted it’s an adjustment taking snaps from a new centre, but also had praise for Kolankowski’s efforts against the Redblacks.

“I thought he stepped up. Very big for us in that game, obviously. I’ve known Chris for a while now. I trained with him in the offseason in Toronto and he’s a great guy, a great football player, he works hard, he loves the game, so, we have all the faith in the world in him,” Collaros said.

“He came in and did a great job in a tough spot.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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