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Family is everything for Jake Wieneke, especially in times like this.
When the receiver made the Montreal Alouettes’ roster ahead of the 2019 season, one of the first calls he made was back home to his parents. Little did he know that call would kick off a season-long, cross-country road trip.
His folks, Eric and Susan, decided that they wanted to buy a minivan to make the nearly 20-hour, 1,880-kilometre trip from their home in Minnesota. It didn’t stop there, however, not only did they make the trip to Percival-Molson Memorial Stadium, but they made it out to every game in 2019.
“I can’t say I was surprised,” Wieneke said with a chuckle. “They’ve been to every game my whole life. I can’t remember a game I haven’t been to. So I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was excited. It was just awesome to go to an away game, you might be feeling homesick, and then you see your family and you feel that sense of home.”
On top of his parents making it out, his brother, Clark, also tagged along on some of the road trip, as did Wieneke’s wife, Brenda.
The countless hours spent cruising highways paid dividends, as the Wieneke’s had the chance to see Jake have a standout first season north of the border.
With new head coach Khari Jones taking the helm a week ahead of the Als’ first game of the year and starter Antonio Pipkin going down with a long-term injury just weeks into the year, the team could very well have crashed and burned before they even had a chance to truly get out of the gates. But it felt like there was something special brewing in Montreal throughout the year.
Vernon Adams Jr. stepped in and became one of the breakout stars of the 2019 campaign, and one of his favourite targets was Wieneke.
He finished the season with 569 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns on 41 catches. Wieneke’s best performance of the year by far came in Week 15, when he posted 134 yards and a score on eight catches. The biggest catch of that night came on the final play of the game.
Adams and Wieneke connected on a 15-yard pass in the middle of the end zone for the walk-off victory. The touchdown marked a 21-point unanswered streak that helped Montreal complete their largest comeback in franchise history.
Jones and Adams seemed to bring a new energy into the room, and the team rolled to a 10-8 record and the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2014.
“It was really just such an amazing year,” Wieneke said. “Just all the adversity and all the things we had to go through and how we came together as a team. Obviously, we had a lot of success, but we also just had so much fun.
“Every day, just coming to practice and seeing everyone, we definitely got very close as a team and we were a tight-knit group. I really just enjoyed coming to work every day. It was my first season in the CFL and I just enjoyed every minute of it. I really just fell in love with my teammates, the culture, the city and the CFL. It was a lot of fun and a really great year.”
Wieneke’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as he was nominated for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie award at the 2019 Shaw CFL Awards.
The 25-year-old has had his hands full this off-season. On top of the rigours of preparing for a football season, he’s also a new father. His son, Israel, was born on May 6. He’s also picked up some work as a substitute teacher during the COVID-19 outbreak.
He has stayed with family in Maple Grove, Minnesota, which is about 15 minutes outside of Minneapolis. The city has been an epicentre for one of the biggest social justice movements in recent memory following the murder of George Floyd.
“It’s probably been just over a month and I think that a lot of good has come from this and I think that people are really starting to come together,” Wieneke said. “There’s obviously a lot of division initially but now there’s the peaceful protests and everything that has been bringing change.
“I think over the last couple of weeks, there hasn’t been any looting or rioting or anything that I’ve seen. It’s been all the peaceful, unifying things that have happened. I’ve had a chance to go down to the memorial and see some pretty cool things with people of all races coming together to bring about a change.
“… I talked to VA (Adams) about it, with us both having sons born in May, the same month George Floyd was murdered. Both of our sons are going to grow up as black men in this society. We just realize that could be our kids, and that just makes it a little more personal to me. As a white man, it’s harder for me to understand that my son is going to grow up in this society as a black man and I want to bring about a change.”
Wieneke wasn’t the only Alouette that took part in protests and the movement as a whole. Now retired running back James Wilder Jr. was active in his community when it came to speaking out, and general manager Danny Maciocia, president Mario Cecchini and running back Tyrell Sutton were among the members of the organization that took part in the Montreal protests.
During this extended time away from the field, Wieneke has learned to enjoy the process of getting ready for a season and the hard work that it takes to be at top form heading into the year.
One thing is certain: Wieneke and his teammates are looking forward to the day that they can play together again and compete for a Grey Cup.