Wolitarsky’s contributions go beyond catches and touchdowns
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On a team that prides itself on selflessness, there’s likely no better example on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers than receiver Drew Wolitarsky.
Wolitarsky has the ever-valuable Canadian passport (his mother is from Montreal), but he encompasses the coolness of someone who grew up in sunny California, while also having an appreciation for colder climates following years playing for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. He’s a passionate guy who cares about his craft, has a deep love for his family and sings to soothe his soul and those of others, too.
To be clear, this isn’t his dating profile. In fact, he’s living happily in Winnipeg with his partner, Savannah, helping raise a three-year-old girl, Leni June.
Instead, it’s just part of the understanding that while other receivers in the locker room have taken much of the spotlight this season, Wolitarsky couldn’t be happier for his teammates. At the same time, he’s put forth a strong season himself, albeit quietly, now in his fifth year in the CFL, all of with the Bombers.
“Honestly, I’m playing my best football. These last few seasons, in 2019 and again last year, I had an injured MCL, and it was killer,” Wolitarsky said following a closed practice at IG Field Tuesday. “I’m finally healthy, I’m taking care of myself, working harder, lifting every day. I just feel I’m playing my best football because I feel like I’m my best self.”
The numbers add up, even if they don’t jump off the page. Wolitarsky, who turned 27 earlier this year, has 23 receptions for 314 receiving yards in nine games, as well as one touchdown.
He’s on pace to eclipse his season-high of 45 catches and with a bit more production over the final nine games, his career-best of 650 receiving yards in a season is also certainly within reach.
In determining Wolitarsky’s value to the Bombers, you can’t look solely at his statistics. Ask around the team, and his coaches tell a greater story.
While Wolitarsky isn’t likely to threaten for the league lead in receiving yards and touchdowns, as seen with teammates Dalton Schoen and Greg Ellingson this year, and though he might not be used in the run game like Nic Demski, he’s a vital piece to the Bombers offensive attack. You just might have to look a little harder to see what his team sees every week.
“If you watch his role, what he does for us offensively, he does a lot,” Bombers offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce said. “Quarterbacks trust him. You can put him in the slot. You can put him on the line. You can motion, you can move him. You can put him in the box. He’s really like a switchblade, and a guy like that who understands things the way he does, he can get others lined up. He’s a very good leader in the room. Guys respect his knowledge because of what he does on game day. He just keeps finding ways to be productive.”
Though Wolitarsky admitted he wishes he could score more — “Abso-f—-ing-lutely,” he said. “Everybody does” — he takes just as much pride in seeing others succeed. He knows his role won’t always lead to finding the end zone, that doesn’t mean he isn’t part responsible when someone else hits paydirt.
“I’m just executing my job. I’m not always in positions to catch touchdowns and that’s just part of my role. I’m in the backfield blocking. I’m in protection with the O-line. I need to know a lot of stuff,” Wolitarsky said. “I just love contributing, I love making big plays when I can and I’m happy playing out there.”
As for the success of Schoen and Ellingson, a duo of first-year Bombers who have combined for 71 catches, 1,159 yards and 10 touchdowns, Wolitarsky is not at all surprised by their early success. He said it’s the culture in the locker room, and the belief that if one person succeeds, it’s the result of the players around them.
How else, Wolitarsky said, do you think a team can be a perfect 9-0.
“Everybody needs to bring their best game, because so much stuff relies on everybody at one time. Someone will always have the stardom because of people doing stuff right. That’s just how it works,” he said. “With any team, if one person stops playing then nobody is going to do good. And you see great players on other teams, stars, and they’re not winning games and they’re not having great seasons and you know what they can do when they’ve been on great teams. Everyone is looking out for each other, everyone is doing their thing because when their opportunity comes up, they know everybody else is going to do it for them.”
Showing up every day with a positive attitude and putting in the work is why Wolitarsky is so respected by his coaches and teammates. It’s not always the big catch that earns that — though Wolitarsky has made a lot of big plays over his career — but the smaller, seemingly lesser notable moments, too.
“He’s in the right spots and when plays break down he just seems to make himself available. With QB Zach (Collaros), he just really believes that if he looks to Wolly, Wolly is going to make the right decision, find a spot and then make catch. His sideline awareness is fantastic,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. “Play breaks down and Zach does a fantastic job of extending the play with his feet and then there’s Wolly with the catch. Sometimes it’s a really hard catch. Then you see him going down the sideline and he went in on a deep ball. That’s not even talking outside the pass game, because then there’s his protection.
“In this last game, he took a hit off Zach, in protection, coming all the way across the formation, picking up a blitzer from the far side and he put a good shot on the guy and he saved a big shot on Zach. That’s the play where, yeah, the catch down the sideline everyone is happy, but when the team sees that play, they have a ton of respect for that.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.