HAMILTON — Canada’s smartest person knows better than to rush back from injury.
Peter Dyakowski is easily handling stairs and weighted squats five months after suffering a serious knee injury in the 2013 Grey Cup. Despite his progress following surgery for a torn patellar tendon, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman doesn’t expect to be ready for the start of training camp June 1.
“I’ll be there and active but I’m not going to be close to contact,” Dyakowski said in an interview. “I’m working on jogging the rest of this month and in May I’ll be running and getting into football drills.
“But with this injury, caution is very important to keep in mind. I want to be back playing better than I did before, that’s my goal and motivation here.”
The six-foot-five, 325-pound Dyakowski has been a solid performer for the Ticats. He was their 2011 nominee for the CFL’s top lineman award and the following season claimed East Division and CFLPA all-star honours.
And last year, Dyakowski played in his first Grey Cup. But it wasn’t necessarily a positive experience as Hamilton not only lost 45-23 to the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders but Dyakowski left the game on a stretcher before halftime due to his injury.
“When I woke up that morning, I was about to be a Grey Cup champion,” he said. “Just before halftime I’m loaded up on my right leg pushing on (Riders’ defensive tackle) Keith Shologan with everything I’ve got and I get hit right in the back of the knee.
“You’re supposed to get hurt, it happens to everyone but being carted off the field an unable to walk off was probably one of the most embarrassing, shameful moments of my life. I felt awful.”
Four days later Dyakowski has surgery. Then the real fun began.
“The first couple of months were brutal, I was horizontal for the most part,” he said. “Now I’m doing several days a week at the Ticats’ headquarters and a couple days at McMaster because they have an underwater treadmill and it’s really coming along.
“I’ve got a bit more time ahead of me than behind but I feel like I’m closer to the finish than the start.”
When Dyakowski returns to Hamilton’s lineup, he won’t have teammate Marwan Hage to lean on. The 10-year veteran centre retired this week, four months after being selected by Ottawa in the CFL expansion draft.
“It’s going to be different because aside from a couple times where one of us was injured, I’ve played my entire seven years here next to Marwan,” Dyakowski said. “Over the years I learned a lot from him so I’ll be a better player for it even though he’s gone.”
But the fun-loving 29-year-old Vancouver native is more than just muscle and brawn. In 2012, Dyakowski won CBC’s “Canada’s Smartest Person” show, beating out contestants in six categories of intelligence: musical, physical, social, logical, visual and linguistic.
“Canada’s Smartest Person” returns this year as a weekly series and Dyakowski says he’s living proof anyone can win.
“In some ways I personified that whole idea,” said Dyakowski, who won’t be defending his title on the show. “It was vindication, of sorts, that we football players aren’t all that dumb.”
Then again, Dyakowski isn’t a typical jock. He attended LSU, a traditional NCAA football powerhouse, on an athletic scholarship while majoring in mechanical engineering. In his third year Dyakowski had to switch to history and geography because football commitments prevented him from booking engineering labs, which were required for third- and fourth-year classes.
“I started out with high aspirations, I was going to build bridges and machines,” he said. “But football, especially in the SEC, is a year-round, full-time job and we didn’t really have any time after noon to book classes and the engineering labs are only given in the afternoon.
“So I was either looking at puttering around for my five years there taking courses I didn’t need or biting the bullet and changing my major so I changed to history and geography. I should’ve stayed in hard science in hindsight but I love history and figured I might as well pick something I love.”
Dyakowski’s success on “Canada’s Smartest Person,” is further proof in football circles that offensive linemen are the most cerebral players.
“I went just for fun,” he said. “I had a friend say, ‘You should try out for this show, ‘Canada’s Smartest Person,’ and I thought, ‘It’s going to be embarrassing but why not?’
“When I won it, it was a total surprise.”
Dyakowski isn’t done testing his wits on television. He was recently a contestant on “Jeopardy.”
“(Host Alex Trebek) is a Ticats fan so it was kind of cool,” Dyakowski said. “One of the really neat things was at the start when they say, ‘This is Jeopardy,’ actually seeing the guy (announcer Johnny Gilbert) doing it live because I always thought it was a recording.
“It’s very reassuring, very comforting to hear this familiar voice and see this kind, grandfatherly type figure saying it.”
So how did Dyakowski fare?
“I’m contractually obligated to maintain strict silence officially,” said Dyakowski, who will appear on the show in June. “However, I will say it was a lot of fun and I’ll have many stories when the time is right.
“Unfortunately, there were no categories about Tim Hortons pastries. I think the other contestants would’ve cried foul if those had come up.”
Possessing a superior intellect has allowed Dyakowski to take a unique approach to dealing with trash talk on the football field.
“I try to maintain a certain level of composure and have fun with that,” he said. “I try to be very creative and target deep-seeded psychological anxieties that my opponents may have and exploit it.
“Comments about their weight, for example, and they’re self-conscious for the rest of the game and worried if the cameras are picking up them in an unflattering light. Before they know it, they’re messing with their jersey and not thinking about sacking the quarterback. I also try to think up good nicknames and a few good comments. I go for humour and it’s usually appreciated by the opposition. Occasionally, though, you’ll meet a guy without a sense of humour.”