Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/4/2018 (537 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A year ago, Drew Wolitarsky was waiting tables in a Wayzata, Minn., restaurant when fate stepped in and turned his life upside down.
His college football career at the University of Minnesota had wrapped up months earlier and he was pondering his future out of the game when he was presented with an intriguing option.
Although born and raised in California, the third-team All Big-10 selection’s mother was born in Canada and he qualified to obtain his Canadian citizenship and become eligible for the CFL’s supplemental draft.
Wolitarsky thought this was a fine idea and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, eager to employ his potential as a ratio-breaking Canadian, surrendered one of their third-round picks in the 2018 CFL Draft for the right to take him.
All these months later, the Bombers and Wolitarsky may finally be in a position to fully exploit the situation.
In 2017, he spent the first 13 games of the regular season on the practice roster before dressing as a reserve and a special-teamer for the final six games of the regular season, catching one pass for 15 yards in a game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
With his first pro season out of the way, the 6-3, 220-pounder paid close attention to having a productive off-season, which included an intensive training regimen and quality downtime spent learning to play the guitar, meditation and honing his skills as a fiction writer.
Now, he believes he’s ready to make more of an impact in 2018.
"I feel really good, man, I’m confident," Wolitarsky said on Wednesday’s Day 2 of Blue Bombers mini-camp at Investors Group Field.
"I’m just out here with the apprenticeship under my belt. I’m still technically a rookie (but) I feel a lot more comfortable with the offence. My players, I’ve got some buddies on the team now and I understand the position I’m in here — my background, where I played and all those things factor in and they’re really just giving the motivation in the off-season to push every day, get my work in and get faster."
Last year, he learned quickly that CFL careers rarely are fast-tracked.
"It was tough," Wolitarsky said of last season. "Just being in a brand-new place, not knowing anybody. Living out of the hotel and cramming your brain with this playbook. And you want to play, you want to do this, want to do that. But at the same time you gotta admit to yourself you don’t know everything and I’m not ready, even though you want to play so bad.
"And even when you get ready, the roster’s full."
Wolitarsky’s job description remains undefined but he believes he’s most comfortable as a slot receiver in the CFL, which is similar to the role he performed in high school and college.
In Winnipeg, with the departure of free-agent receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino to the Ottawa Redbacks and strong indications the Bombers want to start two Canadian receivers, a prime opportunity has presented itself to the 23-year-old product of Santa Clarita, Calif.
"I’ve never actually heard the coaches saying that but everyone is saying that," he said. "I assume it’s been said by someone."
Wolitarsky admits he still doubts himself sometimes.
"Confidence comes and goes, truthfully," Wolitarsky said.
"It’s like the weather. You just have to have that innate belief and just come out and focus on your task. That’s all you can do. I learned that from my pychologist... I’m faster, I’m leaner and I would say my mind has never been better — fact."
Receiver Nic Demski, an off-season free agent pickup, is another Canadian expected to immediately upgrade the receiving corps.
The 6-0, 210-pound Winnipegger played three seasons in Saskatchewan after being chosen by the Roughriders with the sixth-overall pick of the 2015 draft.
Leaving the Riderville faithful behind has been a little complicated.
"Some are definitely unhappy," said Demski, who was heavily involved in an anti-bullying campaign while with the Riders.
"At the end of the day, it’s a business. There have been a lot of fans who actually reached out and some I even saw during CFL Week who said they’re happy for me. They wish nothing but success for me."
Now 24, Demski dismisses the notion held by some that he is injury prone after missing nine games last season due to a broken foot.
He caught 19 passes for 222 yards in 2017 and has displayed electrifying punt return ability in the past.
"I guess some could look at it like that," Demski said.
"I don’t look at it like that. I mean, I had one year, which was last year, where I was hurt. Other than that I haven’t really had a big injury in the CFL. I’ve seen some people say that, that I’ve been off the field a lot. But if you look at games played, I’ve played the majority of the games in the CFL."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.