April 5, 2018

Otha Foster brings Marine mentality to Lions

Geoff Robins/CFL.ca

Just like the classic wooden PNE roller coaster- adjacent to the Lions’ former home at Empire Stadium- the football path for Otha Foster III has seen many twists and turns. Although the product of Vernado, Louisiana started playing at the age of five, he hit a minor bump in the road when it came time to continue his career in college.

“Football is life in the deep south. I have always been a pretty good player, even throughout high school,” began Foster about his unorthodox path to the pros.

“My dream kind of started to fade because I was from a small school (Vernado High) that was more renowned for basketball. I didn’t have a whole lot of college options right away.”

Instead of heading for the bright lights of a big campus, Foster did something that would no doubt keep him in shape and teach him even more about the art of discipline: he joined the Marines.

“It was probably the single most important thing I decided to do in my life. Over the course of the next four years, I was stationed in South Carolina, North Carolina and then out to Marine Corps 29 Palms in California,” explained the Lions’ new defensive back.

“The Marines is probably the hardest boot camp there is. As far as the Army, Navy and Air Force go, those boot camps probably aren’t quite the same. You could tell them I said that too (laugh). That discipline I learned came with the will to work and never give up. I owe a lot to the Marine Corps.”

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» Bio: Otha Foster by the numbers

When the free agency period opened on February 13th, GM Ed Hervey quickly had a hole to fill after the departure of nickel back Chandler Fenner to Winnipeg. Should Foster’s new squad slot him in there, he has proven he can play the position well after racking up 173 defensive tackles and three interceptions, including one taken back to the house, from 2014-16. He helped the Eskimos win the 2015 Grey Cup before departing to Saskatchewan the following season. His most productive campaign to date led to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

After being part of the final roster cuts in September, he returned to the Green Riders for the remainder of 2017 and then made what he says was an easy decision to join Hervey out west in the early hours of free agency.

“I played for him in Edmonton, I know what he’s capable of and seen first hand how he can put a championship team together,” said Foster of the Lions’ new football ops. boss.

“He’s all about building teams with good chemistry and good vibes in the locker room. Ed made the decision pretty easy for me.”

Another major selling point for the Louisiana native was the chance to be reunited with a former teammate and trash talking buddy Odell Willis.

“That is going to be very fun. Odell is one of the guys who took me under his wing when I got to Edmonton and showed me the ropes. I have to try and get more sacks than him this year.”

The first few defensive meetings for Mark Washington’s unit might require the use of name tags. Along with Foster, new additions include end Gabriel Knapton and fellow defensive backs Gary Peters, AJ Jefferson and Keelan Johnson. Foster also looks forward to teaming up with some of the incumbents, including Solomon Elimimian.

Otha Foster (middle) won a Grey Cup alongside Ed Hervey with the Eskimos in 2015 (The Canadian Press)

“He’s been a staple on their defence for years, probably could be the defensive MOP every year,” said Foster of number 56.

“Being able to play with him is definitely exciting. I believe in what Ed is building on defence. I’m confident it is going to be a good group of guys and the competition is going to be outstanding. With great competition comes great play.”

Competition has been something Foster has always thrived on, even when he first took up the game as a young kid in Vernado. He credits his father Otha II, who passed away in 2010, for teaching him the ropes early.

“He was a dialysis patient and sick most of my life, but my dad was the first one who preached discipline and hard work,” stated the younger Foster.

“That probably had something to do with me making the hard decision to go into the Marines.”

And when football resumed, he still had to be patient. After two years at Peace River Community Community College, Foster landed at West Alabama and teamed up alongside future Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler in a secondary that had the number one ranked pass defence in NCAA Division II.

“Malcolm and I crossed paths in my senior year. I was playing safety and he was at corner,” said Foster.

“We had a great defence that also included Deon Lacey, my future teammate in Edmonton. I knew from the start that Malcolm was going to be special. He was just a quick, feisty guy who made it difficult for receivers.”

Now comes the task of helping a Lions defence do something it hasn’t done enough of the past two seasons: create turnovers. Along with the pick six, Foster also recorded a 57-yard scoop and score against Calgary in his first Labour Day Classic in 2014. His addition will no doubt spark one of the more intriguing storylines on a revamped defence when the squad takes the field on May 20th at Hillside Stadium.

As for friendly stats wagers with Odell?

“I haven’t talked to him much since signing, but once we get to camp you know it’s on!”

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com