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This article was published 10/7/2017 (955 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Blue Bombers had a new receiver in their midst Monday when Drew Wolitarsky, a non-import chosen in the CFL’s supplemental draft on June 27, made his Winnipeg debut.
The 22-year-old from Santa Clarita, Calif., is an intriguing prospect to be sure.
A four-year man at the University of Minnesota, where he capped his college career with 66 catches, 860 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, Wolitarsky was undrafted by the NFL this spring and went unsigned after an appearance at mini-camp with the Minnesota Vikings.
With his football career at a standstill, Wolitarsky got a job waiting tables at Bellecour, a French bistro and bakery in Wayzata, Minn. That’s when his brother reminded him his mother was a Canadian by birth and that his parents met and married while both were living in Montreal.
"I was working at this French restaurant, brushing up on my French just in case," Wolitarsky said. "It was like, ‘Hey man, it’s too early to hang up the cleats, let’s give Canada a try.’ I was, like, ‘Yeah.’ At first your pride is a little hurt when (the NFL) doesn’t work out. But again, I got my papers and everything worked out."
Wolitarsky’s application for citizenship was processed quickly last month and his agent made his client’s availability known. Picking Wolitarsky will cost the Blue Bombers a third-round selection in the 2018 CFL Draft.
"Usually it takes about five months, I was able to get it very (quickly), so that helped me," said the 6-3, 220-pounder of getting his citizenship. "They sent my papers out to the committee. From there, to the teams. It took about a month and a half in all to get my name out there. Some teams hadn’t even seen me."
Wolitarsky got a look at the Bombers’ playbook before he arrived in Winnipeg last week. On Monday, with his contract registered with the league, he practised with his new teammates for the first time. The club has a five-day grace period before they must declare his roster status.
"It was nice to finally do the waggle," Wolitarsky said. "Kinda get the feel for that, the timing. Just being back out here with the team and feel part of that unit. I’m a little rusty and I’m working that rust off. I thought I was in shape but football is a different ball game. I’m getting my feet back."
Only time will tell how and when Wolitarsky will be able to use his 4.6 speed on the field.
"His film shows that he’s got very good hands, obviously," Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. "We’ll see how quickly he can pick it all up and what it looks like in terms of the roster."
Wolitarsky was asked if he had received any training on how to act like a Canadian.
"You mean, like eating poutine and stuff like that," he deadpanned. "No, I’ve actually been to Canada quite often with family. Guelph, Ont.; Prince Edward Island; Vancouver. So I know a lot, Swiss Chalet, Tim Hortons. I’m all about that."
How soon did Wolitarsky think he might be ready to play?
"That’s a tough question," he said. "Ask me next week."
Nichols looks ahead:
Winnipeg hosts 2-1 Toronto Thursday night and the Argonauts’ defence should be a difficult test for quarterback Matt Nichols.
"The defensive side of the ball is a very tough group," said Nichols. "It’s going to be tough for us again. There’s no weeks off in this league."
The Argonauts were a team in turmoil during the off-season but Nichols noted the club made several key signings.
"Not surprised, honestly," Nichols said. "You keep seeing the signings rack up in the off-season and guys coming back, like (safety) Marcus Ball, who’s a guy I had a tremendous amount of respect for when he was up in the league a few years ago. Then they sign the East defensive player of the year (linebacker Bear Woods). Their front four, their defensive linemen are guys that get after the quarterback. I don’t know if they are or not but they must be close to leading the league in sacks."
Nichols, who has been sacked seven times in Winnipeg’s first two games, had no plans to alter his tactics after surrendering two key interceptions — including a pick-six — in a 29-10 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Friday.
"I’m always going to trust my eyes and, I said after the game last week, they made a couple of good defensive plays," Nichols said. "I don’t really feel like I made a bad decision on especially one of them. A guy just made a really good play and I was on my read correctly. I felt I was on my reads all night. I’m going to continue to trust my eyes and continue to put the ball up and let these guys make plays for me."
O’Shea expects his offensive line to rebound.
"We’ve got a group of guys that’s constantly working to be better," O’Shea said. "I think we’ve been through this before. The sacks aren’t always on the offensive line, right? There’s 12 offensive players out there and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about where to point fingers. We look at a play as a whole, how to make the play work better, so I wouldn’t focus on the O-line."
INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Ian Wild (arm) is out with a longer-term injury and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Kyle Knox... Defensive end Tristan Okapalaugo (lower body) was a spectator Monday but might play Thursday. "Better to err on the side of resting a guy and evaluating him tomorrow and the next day," O’Shea said.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.