Arden Zwelling is a media and information graduate from The University of Western Ontario where he worked as a sports and associate editor at the Gazette, Canada’s only campus daily. He is also a web editor and blogger for The Score where his University Rush blog was featured during the 2010 CIS football season. Follow Arden on Twitter at @ArdenZwelling.
Joash Gesse, feeling particularly generous in a phone interview earlier this week, was kind enough to share the secret to a rookie’s success in the CFL.
“That’s something that I never did in university — I never thought I would need to do yoga. But now I do it once a week,” Gesse admitted from Vancouver where his Lions are preparing to host the West Division leading Calgary Stampeders this Saturday.
“You have to just go and do it to see how good it is for you. You just feel your body is different. Your legs are less sore and everything. It’s really helped me a lot.”
Well, as Woody Allen would put it, whatever works. Whether it’s his work ethic on the field or his stretching off it, clearly Gesse is doing something right.
The first-year linebacker made such a good impression on Lions scouts that they had him ranked higher than Concordia linebacker Cory Greenwood who was taken third overall in the 2010 CFL entry draft.
Gesse had to wait a bit longer to come off the board — in the third round, 16th overall, to be exact — but that was a wait Gesse was willing to take in order to join an organization that has been a great fit for the Montreal native.
“For me, every day I wake up and I’m so happy to be here. I want to do everything that I can to stay here and have a long career,” Gesse said.
Gesse’s light-hearted, joking demeanor has made him an instant hit in the Lions locker room. In a training camp video on the Lions website, veteran defensive back Korey Banks interviews Gesse, repeatedly mispronouncing his name — it’s pronounced josh jesse — and mocking the rookie’s muscular physique.
For Gesse, having veterans like Banks around has been a plus, not only for keeping things light in the locker room, but also for showing Gesse the ropes in his first season as a professional.
“Those guys have all been helping me with training and everything that I need to be prepared for the game. Everybody has been helping me to be a better player,” Gesse said. “In the locker room everybody is chill and making jokes about everybody else. It’s just a really good atmosphere."
Like most rookies, Geese has seen limited action this year, but has managed to contribute three tackles on special teams.
During his four years with the University of Montreal Carabins, Gesse was a special teams nut, spending plenty of time in practice honing his technique. The 24-year-old credits Spiro Feradouros, the Carabins special teams coordinator, with much of his development coming into the CFL.
“In this league, for a rookie to play you need to play on special teams,” Gesse said. “I was lucky to already have a lot of that knowledge coming into the pros. […] We spent a lot of time on special teams drills in university — that’s where I learned everything.”
Gesse is just one of a talented crop of CFL rookies who have come out of the Carabins program this year. Both him and safety Hamid Mahmoudi were drafted by the Lions in the third round to provide depth to a defence that allowed a league worst 370.6 yards per game in 2009.
Carabins quarterback turned linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette was also drafted in the third round by the Montreal Alouettes, while defensive back Jerry-Ralph Jules, who had 21 tackles and an interception for the Carabins in 2009, signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“At Montreal the coaches really spent a lot of time working with us and improving themselves too — they’re always trying to do whatever they can to be better coaches,” Gesse said. “I know that next year they’ll have a lot more guys who go to the pros too because there’s really a lot of good players at that school.”
Clearly, joining the Lions, who boast one of the most experienced coaching staffs in the league, has been a perfect fit for Gesse. But one thing the 24-year-old is not familiar with in BC is losing.
In four years at Montreal, Gesse never had a losing record. But as he looks at the standings today in his first season in the CFL, he sees his team tied for last place in the league at 1-4 and mired in a four game losing streak.
“For me, it’s a shock because I know that in the past few years the Lions have been a really good team. To have that 1-4 start and especially to lose four games in a row is really hard for me,” Gesse said.
Gesse and the Lions defence can’t take much blame for the team’s struggles this season. They’ve allowed a mere eight touchdowns in five games, holding opposing offences to just 23 points per game.
The offence, meanwhile, has sputtered under sophomore quarterback Travis Lulay who — filling in for the injured Casey Printers — has thrown no touchdowns and four interceptions in his last two games.
But not all hope is lost on the west coast. Thanks to their defence, the Lions have been keeping their losses close. In its past three games, the team has lost by four points to the Alouettes, four points to the Argonauts and three points to the Eskimos.
Going into two games in six days against Calgary and Saskatchewan, this is a team looking to catch a break, and optimism is high in the Lions locker room that one is right around the corner.
“It’s not over. Everything can change. We know we’re a good team. We just need to finish in the fourth quarter and not give up the big play,” Gesse said.
“Something’s going to change this week — I know it. We’re going to do everything we can to win this next game.”