Finding somebody special on special teams has proved to be like pulling teeth for the Als. Fitting one of their returners had to have a tooth pulled on Canada Day in Calgary.
The shock of the most lop-sided season-opening Montreal defeat since a 1982 squad was shutout 36-0 and went on to win only 2 games all season, falls under the “what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger” for the offence and defence.
The Als’ kick-return duo of Guy and Devine may as well have that motto tattooed on their foreheads.
Trent Guy has been through so much worse. A gunman once fired 19 bullets at him, after trying to play peacemaker during a dispute in downtown Louisville.
Then a standout returner-receiver at Louisville, the future property of the NFL’s Raiders, Patriots, Panthers and now CFL’s Alouettes dodged all but the one that could have paralyzed him for life.
Guy has revived his football career in Canada, admitting he had no idea the Als were interested or had claimed his exclusive rights through something called the CFL Negotiation list.
|Prime Time Mentorship|
“It was him just doing what he does. Giving back and trying to be there as the mentor that he is. It meant a lot to me growing up without a father figure in my life. He’s a great guy. He’s everything his name says---he was ‘Primetime.’"
- Als returner and former West Virginia RB Noel Devine on his personal mentor Deion Sanders
But he’d heard of his training camp competitor turned roommate on the regular season-opening road trip: Noel Devine was a high school and college legend who shouldn’t be alive either.
They share a job and one could say they’ve shared horribly unique life trajectories.
“I got the utmost respect for that kid,” says Guy. “He’s perfecting his craft and we both want to take it to another level.”
Devine’s parents both died of AIDS early in his life, forcing him to look elsewhere for leadership.
Deion Sanders mentored the high school phenom in Florida.
“It was him just doing what he does,” says the 5’8” 24-year old. “Giving back and trying to be there as the mentor that he is. It meant a lot to me growing up without a father figure in my life. He’s a great guy. He’s everything his name says---he was ‘Primetime.’
“He leads by example, the way that he lives his daily life.”
Devine then followed Avon Cobourne’s footsteps in West Virginia and spoke to “the other AC” repeatedly about his own future in Canada.
His college coach was former Alouette o-line boss Billy Stewart: “A man of great stature, a great husband, great citizen...just great character all around. He coaches men.”
Death defying lives, now they can defy the odds by holding onto their jobs.
Last season the Als tried 7 different punt returners. Only 1 remains. Bo Bowling’s relegated to the practice roster.
Eleven different players ran back kickoffs. No one with more than 2 returns is back with the club.
For now Guy and Devine have another thing in common.
“We got a bitter taste in our mouth,” says Guy.
“We’re eager to play our hearts out,” says Devine.
The Heisman Trophy nominee hasn’t been a returner since his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“It’s a blessing for me to be here, a great opportunity with a great bunch of guys.”
On Guy: “We’ve known each other through the Big East (Louisville-West Virginia is a heated rivalry) and we’ve found chemistry together. Coach had warned me there was going to be a lot of competition and it was going to be tough. Trent has always been a dynamic returner.”
Who is faster?
“We were so worried about making the team,” Guy confesses. “Racing was the last thing on our minds. We roomed together for the Calgary trip. I think they were playing with us a little bit, picking our brains. The competition between us is great for the team.
“If I take one to the house then he says ‘I got to do one now’ so that’ll be great for the team and we just got to keep learning this game.”
“We’ll have to line it up,” Guy says with a confident smile. “I don’t know, but I’ll take myself.”
Stampeder Larry Taylor, former Alouette and CFL special teams player of the year, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when I mentioned the revolving door in Montreal since he left.
He even offers advice to the CFL newbies: don’t lose yards trying to cross the wide open prairie of a field.
"The width of the field will kill you,” Taylor warned. “You can’t outrun the width of the field. Everyone thinks they can when they first come to this league.”
“It’s true,“, says Devine. “But Trent and I are learning. I had so much adrenaline running and so many emotions (in his debut). We have to be smart and help our team get better field position.”
If the Als defence can put more stops down against Winnipeg, Guy will get more than 2 punt return opportunities and Devine less than his 5 kickoff returns.
“Trent has burst, he’s got power, he’s got good hands,” observes Head Coach Marc Trestman.
“Our kickoff return team wasn’t anywhere near where it needs to be,” he warned. “When Noel gets some space he’ll have a chance.
“Our return team did not win the one-on-one, simple matchups,” Trestman admitted. We’ve got the body types to win our side of it and we have to go out and do that,”
“We’ve just got to go out and find a way to win a game and more importantly to be a better football team.”
Marv Levy believed the CFL game was more than 1/3 special teams. It may seem like the least of Montreal’s problems from the curious perspective of an 0-1 four way tie for 1st place.
Two remarkable men may add to more than 1/3 of the Alouette solution.
“I think we’ve been put together for a reason,” says Devine. “It has to be more than coincidence.”
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.