If you call Ezekiel Rose an athlete, he'll make sure to correct you.
But it isn't because he isn't one. He definitely is, as he played on both sides of the ball and punted at Clarksdale High School in Mississippi. He was even a top-ranked junior tennis player in the state at one time.
It's just the Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie defensive tackle who stands at 6-2 and weighs over 300 pounds has a different word to describe himself.
"I'm more than just a big body. People always tell me 'You're a big guy, man. You can move, you got good hands and this and that. You're a big athlete, man.' And I'm like 'No, no no. I'm a fat-lete. A fat athlete. Don't forget the 'f' at the front,'" Rose said with a laugh in a phone interview with the Free Press.
But long before Rose put on the necessary size to play D-line at the professional level, he was at Eastern Mississippi Community College. If that name sounds familiar, it's because EMCC's dominant football program was the focus of the first two seasons of Netflix's popular documentary series Last Chance U. The players who were prominently featured in the show are mostly guys that were playing, or should be playing, at a big-time Division I school, but character and/or academic issues forced them to play at the junior college level. That wasn't the case for Rose as he was offered to play at Alcorn State University out of high school, but chose to play for EMCC so he could develop and eventually secure an offer from one of the top schools in the U.S. Rose played at EMCC from 2015-16, which happened to be the two seasons the team was followed by cameras for the docuseries.
"The cameras were actually kind of cool. It wasn't that bad," said Rose.
"But there were some certain things that they did where they'd show something on the show and for us that were actually there at the school, we'd be like 'That didn't really happen like that, but OK, whatever y'all say. It's your show.'"
EMCC won back-to-back national titles before Rose arrived on campus and they won another two after he left. There's a very good chance he would've won a ring as a freshman, but an on-field bench-clearing brawl changed everything.
EMCC was beating Mississippi Delta 48-0 on the road in the regular season finale with under a minute left to play in the first half. EMCC star running back DJ Law caught a pass and was tackled, stood back up, and tackled again. The play happened in front of the Delta sideline and Law got up swinging. All hell broke loose from there.
"It was DJ Law versus like 10 or 11 guys. Then our offence went over there to help him out, then their sideline cleared on our offence and they got three of our offensive lineman. They were jumping them," Rose recalled.
"But we ain't no punks out here. I put my helmet on and strapped the chinstrap on. I'm running full speed across the field and my first instinct was to go to the pile and get my guy from under there. So, I ran in and kicked somebody in the ribs. It just so happens I know the guy I kicked in the ribs. A lot of the guys on that team are down from where I'm from in Clarksdale. I was actually in the newspaper in Clarksdale after it happened. They caught me mid-air kicking somebody and after that man, it ruined the whole thing for us, for me especially as I almost got kicked off the team for that."
It made for good TV, but EMCC paid the price. The game was called off and they were hit with a two-game suspension which forced them to miss the playoffs. The following year, EMCC was left out of the national title game as they were ranked No. 3, but Rose broke out with eight tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in 10 games. His strong sophomore campaign led Rose to playing his final two years of eligibility for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Rose graduated with honours in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in multidisciplinary studies and went on to try out with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent, but a severely pulled hamstring days into camp ended his NFL dream. But Rose wasn't ready to give up on pro football, so he attended a Bombers free-agent camp and was signed to a contract at the end of 2019. With the pandemic forcing the CFL to cancel the 2020 season, Rose, who lives in a town of less than 2,000 people called Walls, Miss., and comes from a family of eight children, spent the year working warehouse jobs.
"It put me down for a little while. I ain't gonna lie, I was in a depressed state. I was sad, didn't want to do nothing, always angry, man it messed me up," said Rose on the cancelled season.
"But being around my mom and little sisters brought me back. My little sisters are both really, really good at volleyball. One of them (Alaijiah) is 6-1 and the second youngest sister I have. She got a full scholarship to Austin Peay. So, I went out to her practices a lot and being around them kept me uplifted."
There's no time to watch volleyball now as Rose left the U.S. for the first time to attend Bombers training camp. The 24-year-old has impressed in the first two weeks of camp and has a shot at being starting defensive tackle Steven Richardson's backup.
"He can run all day. Zeke is, for a man his size, he’s right in the running with Jermarcus Hardrick and Geoff Gray and Jonathan Kongbo as being the first big man down the field, the farthest. I would put him up there with those three guys who help drive practice from a big-man standpoint," said head coach Mike O'Shea.
"Zeke is a super likable guy and it’s phenomenal to watch him, as an athlete, how effortless it is for him to run, sprint 40 yards after a ball, after an incomplete pass. He’s downfield and then he gets right back in the huddle. That’s the thing that catches your eye right away."
Rose just hopes he'll have a chance to catch the eye of the Blue and Gold diehards at IG Field this season.
"If I could play ball forever, I would, but I know it's going to come to an end (someday)," he said.
"Like right now without football, I don't know what I'd be doing. I don't know because I'm not a punch the clock type of guy man. I can't sit behind a desk or work a forklift all day, every day of my life. Some people are cool with that, but I can't do it. I just can't do it."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.