Many offensive linemen go an entire season without being noticed by the fans, unless of course they have their number called for a holding penalty that wipes out a big gain.
Rookie BC Lions offensive guard T-Dre Player generated a lot of attention in just his first CFL game.
At six-foot-six and 275 pounds Player is hardly inconspicuous. But with the Lions threatening from the two-yard line, the Edmonton Eskimos didn’t notice Player lining up as an eligible receiver. At the snap he slipped untouched into the end zone then deftly snagged a Kevin Glenn pass for a touchdown.
“It was crazy,” Player said. “Moments before Kevin Glenn threw the ball I thought ‘I’d better catch this ball because if I don’t, offensive linemen the world over are going to hate me.
“It was great.”
Player spent time working with the running backs to sharpen his catching skills.
“I’ve just got magic hands,” he grinned. “It’s a natural thing I guess.”
The touchdown was one of the few things the Lions did right in a 27-20 season-opening loss to Edmonton.
“That was a good call and it worked out,” said coach Mike Benevides. “If they are not going to cover him, we’re going to throw it to him.”
It was an unconventional debut for any lineman but Player has been following a different path most of his life.
Born in Winnipeg, Player’s father Paul played basketball at the University of Winnipeg. His mother Corinne Fontaine is a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. His full name is Tchissakid Dre, which means soothsayer in Ojibwa.
Player moved with his family to Dallas at the age of nine and never played Canadian football growing up.
“I went to a couple of Bombers games as a kid,” he said.
Growing up Player found himself caught in a cultural chasm. He wasn’t black, white or Latino. He had some anger issues and discovered football as a way to release his aggressions.
“With basketball or baseball you can’t really hit anyone legally,” Player chuckled. “You can maybe bust a bat or throw a ball as far as you can.
“With football it’s different. You can always come to practice, you can have a chip on your shoulder. That kind of gives you a boost. Whether you are going against a dummy or going against another person, it helps.”
The discipline football provided was like nourishment.
“It helped give me a direction and it kind of brought me a lot of structure,” Player said. “There are a lot of things I still take from football every day and apply in my real life.”
Player has studied law and is considering becoming a lawyer.
“I was always interested in the law,” he said. “I was always kind of good at writing. I enjoy public speaking and persuasion.
“I kind of just fit in with what I was interested in.”
It was while playing at Northwestern State in Louisiana that coach Ben Norton suggested that Player consider the CFL as an option.
“He really helped me out, gave me a kind of direction what to do, how I should approach going to the CFL,” said Player.
The Lions took Player with their first pick, 12th overall, in this year’s CFL draft. Off-Season retirements and injuries resulted in Player and Andre Ramsey, another rookie, starting on the left side of the offensive line.
Ramsey suffered an ankle injury against the Eskimos, forcing the Lions to add Ryan Cave to the roster for Friday night’s game against the Montreal Alouettes.
Player admits feeling some extra pressure being a rookie on a revamped line.
“As we go along the only thing we can do is try and improve every week and try to make adjustments when we can,” he said. “We can just take it one week at a time.”
So far veterans like Jovan Olafioye, the CFL’s outstanding lineman in 2012, and Dean Valli have been impressed with what Player has shown.
“He stood out very well for the young guy he is,” Olafioye said. “During the game I didn’t hear anything about him doing bad.
“I’m really proud he stepped up.”
Valli said Player is like a sponge during practices.
“He’s very willing to learn,” he said. “He listens well. He takes coaching very well.
“He understands that when you are young you are going to make mistakes. He learns from them. I think he fits in very well.”
Player called his first game “electrifying” and “a lot of fun” but also knows there is room for improvement.
“I still have a lot of work to do as a rookie,” he said. “As player I have to keep improving every day.”
The opening loss came as a wakeup call for a Lions team some have already picked as Grey Cup favourites.
“We have a lot of things to get fixed up,” said Benevides. “We have to find a way to be consistent.”
Glenn, who threw four interceptions against the Eskimos, said the short week to prepare for Montreal helps.
“You learn from your mistakes and move forward,” said Glenn, who has taken over the reins while Travis Lulay continues to recover from shoulder surgery. “That game is over with and flushed down the toilet.
“That’s what this profession is about, forgetting. You need a short memory. I have been playing this game a long time to know that you have to forget about it and move on. You can’t dwell on the past, you have to learn from it.”