September 23, 2017

Winnipeg
10° C, Light rain showers

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

A Bond that won't break

In just one season in CFL, lineman has become one of league's best

When Travis Bond got a call from his agent in the spring of 2016 telling him about an opportunity with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the first thing that came to his mind was how long it would take to get there. He had no idea where Winnipeg was, nor did he know much about the Canadian Football League. He had never seen a CFL game.

“Is that overseas or do I need to take a long trip?” Bond recalled asking his agent, who assured him it wasn’t too far from his home in North Carolina, just north of the U.S. border near North Dakota. “No matter how far the journey, everyone wants to play.”

With a better understanding of where he was headed, Bond packed his bags and prepared for a new chapter. Having been drafted and released by the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, and then facing a similar fate with the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams, he carried with him a healthy sense of skepticism. But he also felt determined, fuelled by the opportunity and the excitement of being somewhere new.

When it was time to go, Bond hugged his mother before leaving her with one final message: he wasn’t planning to be back for a while.

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 898 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for others you wish to read.

Hope you enjoyed your trial.

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 898 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for others you wish to read.

When Travis Bond got a call from his agent in the spring of 2016 telling him about an opportunity with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the first thing that came to his mind was how long it would take to get there. He had no idea where Winnipeg was, nor did he know much about the Canadian Football League. He had never seen a CFL game.

"Is that overseas or do I need to take a long trip?" Bond recalled asking his agent, who assured him it wasn’t too far from his home in North Carolina, just north of the U.S. border near North Dakota. "No matter how far the journey, everyone wants to play."

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Blue Bombers lineman Travis Bond does a drill Thursday during practice at Investors Group Field. He was recently named one of the CFL’s top 50 players by TSN.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers lineman Travis Bond does a drill Thursday during practice at Investors Group Field. He was recently named one of the CFL’s top 50 players by TSN.

With a better understanding of where he was headed, Bond packed his bags and prepared for a new chapter. Having been drafted and released by the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, and then facing a similar fate with the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams, he carried with him a healthy sense of skepticism. But he also felt determined, fuelled by the opportunity and the excitement of being somewhere new.

When it was time to go, Bond hugged his mother before leaving her with one final message: he wasn’t planning to be back for a while.

"I told her I needed to resurrect my career," Bond said following Thursday’s practice at Investors Group Field. "Whether it was in the CFL, NFL… wherever I ended up I just needed to resurrect it and make myself proud and not worry what anybody else might think about me."

Looking to make a strong first impression, Bond’s start as a Blue Bomber wasn’t exactly the way he envisioned. At 6-7 and 365 pounds, Bond is built like a football player — a big body any team would want to have on their offensive line protecting their quarterback. But he suffered a nagging injury early in camp, creating the kind of situation that, for most newcomers, often leads to a release.

The Bombers knew they had something special in Bond and were willing to wait it out in order to give him a proper shot. Though the injury lingered for weeks, the drive in Bond to learn the CFL game and be ready when called upon never waned. To be as best prepared as he could, Bond took part in every meeting, often taking his work home with him to study more.

What made it even more difficult was that it wasn’t just Bond who was learning on the job; everyone was green to the playbook under new offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice. But while everyone else was able to practise the new schemes on the field, Bond was limited to watching. When he was finally cleared to play, it took some time for him to catch up.

"A guy like Travis, it took a little while," Marty Costello, the Bombers’ offensive line coach, said. "And then when you get your chance you’ve got to make the most of it and that’s what Travis did. When his number was called, he stepped up and took the job and never looked back."

Bond’s debut with the Bombers came in Week 6, when he was slotted in at left guard against the Edmonton Eskimos. Despite being most comfortable at right guard, a position he starred at during his four years at the University of North Carolina, Bond wasn’t completely foreign to playing the left side. Versatility has always been an important part of his game, Bond said, so he made sure he learned the opposite side while with the Tar Heels, even if it was just in practice. The importance of being versatile is something Bond continues to preach to young football players, including the students he helped mentor over the winter at Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, the local school in his hometown.

"Don’t limit yourself to just one position," Bond said. Case in point: on Thursday, the Bombers had Bond taking reps at centre. "Whatever they call on me to do I’m going to do it."

Though Bond is able to play every position on the O-line, what he was able to achieve at left guard last year was nothing short of incredible. Despite starting 12 of 18 games last season, Bond evolved into one of the best linemen in the CFL. He was named a CFL all-star and the respect he gained from the 2016 season was enough for him to snag the final spot in TSN’s recently released list of the top 50 CFL players.

"He’s a mountain of a man and he’s athletic. He moves around really well and is a good teammate," Bombers coach Mike O’Shea. "He can play centre, guard or tackle. If you can play all three positions, you’re a smart football player. He’s certainly a nice piece of the puzzle."

Defensive tackle Drake Nevis was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season before signing as a free agent with the Bombers in February. Though he’s glad he now only has to line up opposite Bond during practice, he remembers what it was like to face him in a real game. It was Bond’s third start for the Bombers when they arrived in Hamilton and it didn’t take long for Nevis to take notice.

"It was in the first quarter and I was on the opposite side, so I only went against him like two times, but I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s for real,’" Nevis said. "Not only does he have the size, he has the athleticism and the nastiness. If you’re going against him you’re going to be in for a rough night."

Given where he started his journey with the Bombers — beginning with the promise he made to his mother — to where he ended up — as a CFL all-star — Bond said he is proud of what he’s been able to achieve. Though he can reflect fondly on his time so far in Winnipeg, he knows he still has plenty to learn — and even more to give to the game.

"I just felt like when I came in last year in Week 6 I had a lot to prove. It was my time to really show people I can still play football and that I belonged anywhere I decided to put my hand in the dirt," Bond said.

"I still feel like I have a lot to prove even in this upcoming season, with Week 1 coming up around the corner for us. We all as a unit, as a team and as a staff, we all got something to prove this year."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Read more by Jeff Hamilton.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.