Kolankowski’s perseverance pays off

Bombers’ hard-nosed centre takes long road to starting job


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Life can come at you fast. Just ask Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Chris Kolankowski, who over the span of four years has jumped from the doghouse to the penthouse in his three-down football career.

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Life can come at you fast. Just ask Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Chris Kolankowski, who over the span of four years has jumped from the doghouse to the penthouse in his three-down football career.

It was around this time in 2019 that Kolankowski was released by the Toronto Argonauts during training camp. He had been drafted by the Argos in the sixth round, 49th overall, in 2016, and had played in more than 20 games with the CFL club, including winning the Grey Cup as a rookie in 2017.

“I had to start looking for other jobs,” Kolankowski told the Free Press following Bombers training camp practice on Wednesday. “After getting cut, I probably worked on football for a couple months, but eventually you got to find something to pay the bills.”


Blue Bombers centre Chris Kolankowski knew he’d made the right choice when the Big Blue won the 2021 Grey Cup.

The 31-year-old missed the entire 2019 campaign. He worked in geotechnical drilling, which is a fancy way of saying he had a job in construction. His new life consisted of working anywhere from eight to 16 hours per day, going to the gym, then home to eat and sleep. Rinse and repeat.

While Kolankowski always imagined finding a way back to football, there were certainly times of uncertainty. It seemed especially cruel that when he did sign a contract with the Bombers in February of 2020, a month later the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the entire season was eventually cancelled.

“There were days where you have doubts,” Kolankowski admitted. “Obviously, I was worried from a financial perspective. Between my last game with Toronto and my first game with Winnipeg, it was like 1,100 days.”

Though a challenging experience, it was made easier thanks to a strong support group.

Kolankowski credited his wife, Rianna, who encouraged him to keep pushing for his dream job, along with former teammates, notably Jamal Campbell, who played with Kolankowski at York University and then with Toronto and is now an offensive lineman with the Calgary Stampeders. His agent, Fred Weinrauch, was also there to remind him that his name was still being considered by teams and it was only a matter of time before an opportunity presented itself.

On that note, it would be a disservice not to dive into how Kolankowski came to sign with the Blue and Gold. His agent was informed by Bombers assistant general manager Ted Goveia the team was putting on a free-agent workout in Cincinnati, Ohio, and if his client was interested in participating, they would waive his registration fee.

“I was a veteran player but here I was working out with a bunch of young American free agents,” said Kolankowski, who made the eight-hour drive from Toronto. “Then they signed me in February, months after winning the Grey Cup.”

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from there, either. In fact, Kolankowski, having not played for some time, spent a majority of the 2021 season on the practice team, where players earn considerably less compared to those on the active roster.

Kolankowski wouldn’t get into a game until late in the season, suiting up for a Nov. 6 tilt against the Montreal Alouettes. He would play one more regular-season game and then found himself on the game-day roster for the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton, in which the Bombers defeated the hometown Tiger-Cats in dramatic fashion, earning a 33-25 overtime victory.

“Winning the Grey Cup, that was the moment for me where it hit me that I had made the right choice,” Kolankowski said. “It was a surreal moment hugging my parents, just realizing all it took to get there. There’s no place I’d rather be than in Winnipeg.”

Earlier that season, Kolankowski said he had a talk with head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters about why they wanted to put him on the practice roster and why it was worth his time to stick around. They told him they believed in him and that he just needed to shake off the rust.

O’Shea said he first noticed Kolankowski during his time at York and how, during his draft year, he showed a level of toughness and physicality that popped on film. It was impossible to ignore, O’Shea added, that Kolankowski would “spend everything he had on every play and then collecting himself back up to see if he could muster something else.”

“I don’t think things have changed. He prepares hard to make sure he’s moving guys to the right spot, and he studies the game hard,” the coach said. “Prior to that, he was a physically tough grinder, with that kind of attitude and mentality. He was going to figure out a way to get it done.”

It was in 2022 that Kolankowski would finally get his shot for increased playing time after Michael Couture broke his arm in Week 2. Kolankowski would end up dressing for 17 games in the regular season, starting 15, and while Couture eventually returned after seven games, he was relegated to backup because Kolankowski had performed so well in relief.

The Bombers would go on to lose to the Argonauts, 24-23, in the Grey Cup, marking the start of an interesting off-season that would see Winnipeg stick with Kolankowski in 2023. Couture, who was among the highest paid centres in the CFL, ended up signing with his hometown B.C. Lions.

Kolankowski isn’t taking anything for granted. There’s a bit of competition behind him, although Tui Eli, who is back with the Bombers on a three-year deal, is currently out with an undisclosed injury.

This is Kolankowski’s first full training camp with the first-team offence, which is a significant benefit to building chemistry with the other members of the offensive line. It’s an O-line flush with talent and experience, something Kolankowski said makes his job easier, which he can certainly appreciate after a long and tough road to get to this point.

“It’s massive to have this training camp, especially for me at centre making calls,” Kolankowski said. “Communication between us is top-notch. I could play with blinders and know what’s going on and make the calls.”

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

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