Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2019 (200 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When asked to explain the kind of person Justin Medlock is, Chad Rempel smiles, crosses his arms and looks to the sky as if the words he wants to use are hovering above him somewhere in the clouds.
No one knows Medlock, or works more closely with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker/punter than Rempel, so it would be understandable if he felt a small amount of pressure to come up with the correct answer. As the team’s long-snapper, the two are almost inseparable, both on the field and in the meeting rooms.
"How would I describe Medlock?" Rempel ponders, while standing in the end zone at IG Field following Day 10 of training camp. "He’s the definition of a kicker."
For those who know football, the answer needs no explanation. For those who don’t, perhaps a more relatable sports comparison might help. Like goalies on a hockey team, kickers are often outliers, obsessive — unlike any other player in the locker room. And Medlock certainly fits the bill.
"Definitely detail-oriented. Nothing gets by him. He knows what everybody’s doing — all the snappers, kickers — and what they’re doing right and what they can improve on. He’s critical of himself. He charts everything," Rempel says, adding Medlock’s also sneaky funny. "He laughs hardest at his own jokes."
If you think Rempel is being critical, he’s not. Medlock is universally respected by his teammates, and no one appreciates him more than the man who feeds him the ball. The two go back more than 10 years, meeting for the first time in 2009 as members of the Toronto Argonauts.
At the time, the Argos were desperately looking for a long snapper, so much so they convinced Randy Scrochenski to come out of retirement for a second-straight season. Scrochenski, having already worn the heavy miles of a 15-year career, was a temporary solution, with an agreement to play only home games.
"I was just learning how to long-snap and (Medlock) came up to me and said, ‘Can you snap? Our snapper retired and doesn’t really show up,'" recalls Rempel. "I had just entered the building, and he takes me out to the back field and away we went."
'He still holds me accountable without saying anything, just by setting his own example of how he goes to work every day. The longer we play together the more we understand each other' – Winnipeg Blue Bombers long-snapper, Chad Rempel on teammate Justin Medlock
Now years into their careers, the two have become something of a package deal. They spent parts of two seasons together in Toronto, but maintained a lasting friendship, even as they jumped around to different teams. The relationship was one built on a mutual appreciation for each other's crafts.
"We were texting about a couple things yesterday and he’s more obsessive about his snaps than I am about my kicks," Medlock, 35, says. He’s just so good he makes my job easier."
It wasn’t long after they first met that Medlock recognized Rempel’s devotion and, more importantly, his talent. Together, they worked every aspect of the game, with kicker convincing snapper that if he maintained a strong work ethic he could be good enough for a shot at the NFL.
In 2013, when Rempel finally decided to push for a job south of the border, he travelled to Florida to work with Medlock, who had set him up with the right environment, surrounded by the right people for him to succeed.
"He’d show me film, he introduced me to a couple NFL snappers that helped break down my film at the time and he helped me evolve into a legitimate long-snapper," Rempel says. "He found me NFL kickers and punters to snap to when I was in that environment the whole time. It was awesome."
When Medlock’s contract expired with Hamilton after the 2015 season, it was Rempel who pushed for him to join the Bombers. The two have been here for the team's return to relevancy, earning playoff berths in each of the past three seasons.
"He still holds me accountable without saying anything, just by setting his own example of how he goes to work every day," Rempel says. "The longer we play together the more we understand each other."
Medlock’s CFL career has been well documented. Before signing with Winnipeg, he was already considered among the league’s top kickers. In 2016, his first season with the Bombers, he set a CFL record with 60 field goals and tied or set several franchise records, including a 58-yard field goal in his first game.
Medlock was the league’s leading scorer in 2016 and 2017, and has been the Bombers' most outstanding special teams player in all three years he's worn blue and gold, and earned the league's award in 2016. He’s connected on 85 per cent of his field goals, and is an eye-popping 140-for-140 on one-point converts, which aren’t exactly chip shots from 32 yards out.
He is also constantly working to improve, and in recent years has evolved into a formidable punter, too. Last season, he led the league in punts inside the 10-yard line, with 13, using a variety of different kicks, including the Aussie, the Aussie hook, the knuckle ball, the regular ball and one where he fakes left and then pulls it right.
"It’s the little details on just your alignment that will help everything. You don’t think about it. Like, even today, I was just really trying to make sure that my shoulders were square to the target, just little details that you have to remind yourself," Medlock said.
To listen to Medlock talk about the minutiae of kicking can be a dizzying experience, which, at its most complex moments, feels as though it requires a PhD-level of understanding. What’s clear though, is his dedication hasn't waned after all these years, with an argument that it's only getting stronger.
Consider that with all his on-field workouts this past off-season, he spent even more time in the classroom watching film. Medlock said he watched the entire 2018 and 2017 seasons four times each, with one exception, a Week 15 game in Edmonton in 2017 where he missed all three field-goal attempts. The Bombers still won, 28-19.
"I probably have only seen it maybe two times, maybe, and I have a really hard time watching it," he says. "I got a little crazy about it. I kind of thought to myself, ‘Man, should I be a coach or something?’"
Perhaps some time in the future. For now, Medlock has only one goal in mind, and that’s to win the Grey Cup. The missing piece in what’s been a lustrous career.
"When I was in Hamilton, winning it for Hamilton would have just been so awesome, and now being here for the last three years it would be so awesome to get a win for Winnipeg," he said. "They haven’t had a win in so long it would just be so great for the city and, also, I’ve never won. I’m trying my hardest, too."
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.