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O’Leary: The Last Renegade lands in Ottawa

It sounds like the makings of a post-apocalyptic 1980s action movie.

In the year 2018, a mercenary named the Angry Bird is sent back to the nation’s capital for the first time in 13 years for a mission that only he can carry out. He must unleash his specifically-honed craft on his opponents in order for Ottawa to regain its standing across the country.

Kyries Hebert is The Last Renegade.

“It’s like The Terminator,” Hebert said when he had the gist of the scenario laid out to him on Wednesday morning. “That’s pretty cool.”

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Hebert returns to Ottawa after spending six seasons with the Montreal Alouettes (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Having come into the CFL in 2004, Hebert is the last active member of the Ottawa Renegades. An Alouette for the last six years, Hebert was released last week and in a matter of hours was snagged by the Ottawa REDBLACKS, bringing him back to the city where one of the league’s most physical defensive players started his career. He answered his phone as he was walking into the doors of the facilities at Lansdowne Park.

It’s bittersweet leaving Montreal, he said. He built a life there in those six years. He met his wife, Anneth, in Montreal. They’re expecting a baby girl this year. The Als fans gave him the Angry Bird persona.

“They helped make and create that beast of an animal on the field,” he said, laughing.

“I love and respect them for that, but I tell you, the moment that I set foot back here at Lansdowne (Park), it brought so many feelings and emotions back from my rookie year and what it was like to be in my first Canadian city, not knowing anything about Canada other than what I saw in Ottawa on my first trip.

“A lot of people have been asking me if I’d still be the Angry Bird, if that was going to change. The Angry Bird is my on-field personality, it’s my style of play. It’s flying around and blowing things up.

“If you ever played the app you see what that bird does. That’s me to people. So that won’t change.”

By the time Hebert had joined the team in 2004, the Renegades were headed to their demise. While the organization was losing money and the team’s uncertain future was a frequent topic of discussion, Hebert said he was more focussed on launching his career.

“I just didn’t see (any signs of the franchise ceasing operations) from a player’s standpoint,” he said. “I played some really good games here. My last game as a Renegade I had three interceptions, it was a big deal for me. I was excited and ready to come back for another year. I signed a new contract and then all of a sudden it was gone, I didn’t see it coming.”

Hebert looks back and thinks about the positives from his time in Ottawa. He sees coach Joe Paopao and a veteran in DB/linebacker Gerald Vaughn as people who put him on a track to success as a pro.

“Gerald Vaughn was the guy I looked up to,” Hebert said of the player that had a knack for blocking kicks and punts (he blocked 13 kicks between 1998 and 2004).

“The way he trained, his work ethic, to his attitude. He had a nasty attitude on game day and a positive attitude at practice. I still take some of the things he’d say and I say some of those things in practice now. There’s a little bit of him that carries on with me.”

Hebert and his wife, Anneth, are expecting their first child together (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Hebert was so impressive in his two years in Ottawa — in 36 games he had a combined 118 tackles, 57 special teams tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles — that the team offered him the ultimate rarity in football: a guaranteed contract. It was a reported five-year deal with the first two years guaranteed, the pay totalling $1 million.

“I was a really good football player,” Hebert said, noting that he had legitimate NFL opportunities. His agent at the time pushed to get him incentives to stay with the Renegades. The league ultimately stepped in and vetoed the deal.

“(Former Renegades president) Lonie Glieberman and I still message on Facebook or Instagram every now and then,” Hebert said. “After this season he said, ‘yeah, see, people can’t doubt my decision-making on that contract.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that was a great idea. You saw something special.’”

After eleven seasons in the CFL, Hebert feels like he’s seen it all. He had a guaranteed contract on the table in 2005. He spent time in the NFL. He came back to Canada and was a CFL All-Star in 2012. At 37, he put forth the best year of his career in 2017, finishing third in the league in tackles, with 110 and was named the East’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. And he was released three months later.

Since signing with Ottawa, he’s been vocal about the impact he thinks he can have this year. He points out that his numbers have increased in each of the last three years and that (somehow) his physicality hasn’t slumped.

“I think people feel my physical effects more than I do,” he said.

For a kid that was born in Eunice, Louisiana and decided in the second grade that he wanted to play pro football and have a hall of fame football career, Hebert never thought that he’d chase his dream into Canada.

“My agent called and told me that we were going to Canada and that I’d be playing in a city called Ontario,” Hebert laughed. “We both know Ontario is not a city. We didn’t know a whole lot.

“Things don’t always go quite to plan. At no point did I ever think I’d be living and married in Canada. With a little Canadian daughter on the way, that was never what I envisioned as a kid. I never thought I’d visit Canada let alone move here and make it my home.”

As The Last Renegade gets used to his new/old stomping grounds and readies for the six-month mission that awaits him, he ended the conversation with one simple request.

“Find a kick ass picture of me. That’s important,” he said.

“The Bird is going to fly in Ottawa.”