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WINNIPEG — When Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros was asked about fatherhood, he had a short and sweet answer.
“It’s tiring but wonderful,” he said.
Collaros and his wife, Nicole, welcomed their first child, Sierra Callia, into the world back in April.
While the extended football family is a big one, there might not be a man that knows what Collaros is going through as a new parent better than Adam Bighill. He and his wife, Kristina, have three children of their own, A.J., Leah and Beau, who was born back in September.
The pair of Canadian Football League veterans took the time out of their respective days to speak to the media after the announcement that there would be no CFL season in 2020.
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Bighill and Collaros are no strangers to the Canadian game, having entered the league in 2011 and 2012, respectively. But this year has been unlike any that either individual has gone through in their professional careers.
Players were preparing for a regular June start to the 2020 season when the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America. Professional sports were quickly shut down, and while the CFL was in the middle of the off-season, several events were cancelled, including the CFL National and Global Combines. Players continued to get in workouts from their homes while preparing for a potential 2020 season.
Collaros, who had just signed a contract to stay with the Bombers, has become accustomed to life in Canada. His wife, Nicole, was born and raised in Ontario and the couple lives in the province, as the pivot has spent the majority of his career with the Argonauts and Tiger-Cats.
While he’s been solely focused on football throughout the last decade, Collaros did admit that this extended time away from the gridiron has made him think about his life off the field more.
“We’ve had a couple of months to think about (what to do next),” Collaros said. “It’s something that my wife and I have talked about. The trouble with me living in Canada right now is that my permanent residency hasn’t gone through yet. I’m only under contract to work for the CFL so we’re trying to get that all squared away and then figure out what to do going forward,”
Bighill has been planning ahead for life after football for some time. While being one of the best linebackers and overall leaders in the CFL, he’s also spent the past year working as a financial advisor for Wellington-Altus in Winnipeg.
“It’s been a really good opportunity for me to focus on my other career,” Bighill said of the stoppage. “I’m really able to put all my energy into that field. The idea was to build a business that I could completely transition into once I wanted to retire. At least I have something I can work on full-time now that’s going to be paying dividends in the long-term and really help people.
“So it’s good for me to be in a position where I have something that I know for sure I’m building and working on.”
While Bighill has it figured out already, many players will be looking into what to do next without football in the picture in 2020. Several players are still just getting into professional football, while others were about to go into their first season as a pro.
“For many guys, they might be in a state where they’re like, ‘I’ve got to figure out what I want to do and what my passion is. What are my skills? What do I want to do outside of football?'” Bighill said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to show people that there will be life after football, start building something now, curate it during your playing career and when you’re done, you’ve got a great launching pad.”
“All the way around, it’s been a tough year,” Collaros said as a follow-up. “Guys have to take advantage of this time and find what they’re passionate about and find what they want to do after football because this game does end. It’s a tough reality and guys who retire always go through it.
“It’s not fluff or political speak, it’s just tough here for everybody. I hope those guys that are struggling find something.”
While the cancellation is a tough pill to swallow for everyone involved with the league, whether it’s players, fans or staff, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel, as the league has shifted focus to the 2021 season.
Both Collaros and Bighill will go back to their everyday lives as fathers and husbands with an eye towards the future and leading the Blue and Gold in what they hope will be a defence of their 2019 championship.
“It’s a different time with this pandemic. Everything has been affected. We’re definitely not in the minority there,” Collaros said. “We’ll see what happens moving forward. I know it’s a great product. I’ve really grown to love this game, the Canadian game, this league and the fans.
“We just ask for the fans to stick behind us and know that we’re putting all the work in to come back better and stronger in 2021. I don’t know if you win the championship in 2019 and 2021 if that counts as back to back, but that will be our goal. It’s really disappointing to not get on that field and defend the title this year. We’ll have to wait however much longer this is going to last to get on there and do that. It’s just really disappointing.”