For a guy who doesn’t care about individual stats or accolades, Shea Emry sure is having fun with his first career CFL touchdown. The heel-toe kick celebration after flapping his ball-hawk wings in the endzone of Rogers Centre to clinch an Alouette home playoff date became his twitter feed profile picture this week.
Truth is Shea is taking his life to a higher level on and off the field.
“Being back on the field making plays and helping my team win is such a great feeling,” says Emry, rewarded by Coach Trestman with two days off in a row, a rarity for a short turnaround week in the CFL, not to mention winning a double shot of Gibson’s Finest as Canadian and Defensive Player of the Week.
The painful twists and turns along the road to recovery from concussion that put last season under a dark cloud led directly to that joyous TD jump that also sparked friendly teasing on his facebook page.
Emry has far surpassed his previous season-high in tackles, far surpassed his CAREER total in quarterback sacks (five of his seven have come in the last six weeks after only two in the first nine games).
“The concussion was something that threatened my livelihood. When that identity as a football player is questioned it hits home,” admits the fifth-year Alouette. “It made me do a lot of soul-searching in the offseason. I got back to the basics. I take every game and situation outside of football as a blessing and an opportunity to make myself better.”
|Twists in the road|
“The concussion was something that threatened my livelihood. When that identity as a football player is questioned it hits home. It made me do a lot of soul-searching in the offseason. I got back to the basics. I take every game and situation outside of football as a blessing and an opportunity to make myself better.”
- Alouettes LB Shea Emry on dealing with his concussion last year
From the Latin “concutere” - “to shake violently” - a concussion self-diagnosis was on Emry’s mind by the time he hit the bench on the sideline last July 27 in Calgary, even though it was the first time he’d been concussed.
“I don’t remember a specific play but I knew something wasn’t right ‘up there’,” says the CFL’s leader in tackles and sacks by Canadian players in 2012. “I knew I had to get off the field.”
Concussion stigmata are bad enough in football without ever having to deal with the least-talked about after effects. Depression.
It wasn’t the first time his brain had shaken him violently or emotionally.
Emry, bullied in his younger days growing up in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, already had experience with battling the demons of mental illness.
His football c.v. says he’s a 1st Round Draft pick (seventh overall) from UBC in 2008. It doesn’t tell you that he’d left Eastern Washington after fighting depression.
“The depression came from feeling like an outsider...and here I was again after the concussion, feeling I wasn’t part of the team. You’re sitting on your butt sedentary, finding some kind of self-worth and it’s difficult...facing the abyss of life. I took a long time to recover.”
“My emotional state was difficult to deal with,” recalls the Vancouver-native listed at 235 pounds of muscle on a solid 6’1” frame. “My girlfriend at the time was back home...I kept calling my parents telling them to get me out of there. I had to take sleeping pills to go to sleep, I was crying myself to sleep, my mind was racing.”
“That period (college) I was so young-minded, I wasn’t being a man and I was being soft. I didn’t have the knowledge about life."
“I was homesick and was expecting a lot of things that weren’t coming to me. I was a QB in high school and I wasn’t ‘the guy’ any more. I was doing my thing on defence, but at the same time I just wasn’t happy.”
“I’m glad I had football. When I came out of a cloud of depression, I came out of my cloud of bullying. Football helped me take out my aggression.”
“Last year I really wanted to get back, I really felt like I was letting my teammates down. Some symptoms would come back...the team handled it with a lot of class, allowed me to take my time.”
The Als started 5-2 while giving up 22 points a game with Emry healthy. They were 5-6 while giving up 28 points a game without him, not including the defensive meltdown in the East Semi-final against the Ti-Cats.
“I was practising at the end of the year without symptoms, but I felt the anxiety of whether I could still do it at the level I wanted to.”
“I had to get my mind right and my soul right.”
Emry visited Montreal-area schools with the Alouettes “Together in School” program in the off-season to tell his story, help kids, but also to heal himself.
He was coming full circle. As a teen, he’d listened intently to a class visit from then-BC Lions Jason Clermont and Angus Reid.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to give back. At the same time I wanted to make myself a better person and use my brain in a different way. I was taking French classes at McGill too, all to make sure my brain was in a better state of mind and soul.”
Now, the Amanda Todd tragedy in his home province has him thinking about how to make a difference.
“I’m still trying to find the message in my story,” admits Emry. “If I can make someone think they can make it through...there were underlying issues I’d gone through when I was younger...I was always the brunt of jokes and the brunt of this and that...but I’m still friends with some of those who bullied me.”
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFLers Ed Philion and Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|