February 23, 2021

O’Leary: Pier-Olivier Lestage chases pro dream through the pandemic

Photo: James Hajjar

In a normal, non-pandemic year, Pier-Olivier Lestage would probably have a much more certain grasp on his football future.

When the Saint-Eustache Que. native was last on the football field, he was named a second-team All-Canadian with the Montreal Carabins. That was of course at the end of the 2019 season.

The normal path would have been for him to return to the Carabins for another season of U SPORTS eligibility. The hope would have been for a long playoff run that ended with a Vanier Cup win, maybe an upgrade to a first-team All-Canadian selection and with that, a bump in his stock as a pro football player.

The pandemic, as we’ve all learned, doesn’t care about our plans.

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At six-foot-three and 295 pounds, Pier-Olivier Lestage is built for battling in the trenches. Over the next few months, he’ll figure out whether that’ll be in Canada or in the U.S. (Photo: James Hajjar)

A cancelled U SPORTS season disrupted the normal path for Lestage, but it hasn’t snuffed it out. The 23-year-old is pursuing those pro opportunities now, having taken part in three college showcase games in the States this year. He was at the East-West Shrine game, the Tropical Bowl and the college gridiron showcase in Texas.

“A lot of scouts when I was in Florida asked me, ‘What was the hardest time in your life and how did you overcome it?’ Lestage said on a media conference call this week. He’s back home now, safely quarantining after his U.S. travel.

“I always say that pretty much what I had to live this year with Covid. I’ve been playing football since I was 12 years old and this is the first time I’m not playing football. It’s hard not to be down or depressed but you have to take it one day at a time.

“We know Covid is going to end but we don’t know when it’s going to be. You just have to be ready for it. Right now you can’t really go to the gym, you can’t really practice the sport that we love. I don’t know what to say, it’s been really different this year. It’s still going pretty good if I look at the circumstances, but I can’t wait to play football again and put on the pads, that’s for sure.”

The psychology major looks for the positives in what’s been a bleak year. This isn’t how he envisioned taking the next steps in his football career, but there are still steps to be taken and he has options. He’s chasing his NFL opportunity and if that doesn’t pan out he’ll look back to Canada. The six-foot-three, 295-pound guard still has at least a year of eligibility with the Carabins and if he wanted to, could likely step into a role with a CFL for the 2021 season. He was ranked 10th in the January edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau, up one spot from the fall rankings.

Funny enough, the Montreal Alouettes have the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Lestage grew up watching the Als through the days of Anthony Calvillo, when trips to the Grey Cup felt like a given.

“I’ve always dreamed to go there,” he said.

“I was watching games on TV, I was going to games with my parents at Percival Molson Stadium. There’s an NFL opportunity so of course i’m going to take it but if I don’t make it I’ll be very happy to be in the CFL because growing up as a child I was always watching football and it was always the CFL, so it was pretty high on my radar.”

For now, Lestage will continue to train as best he can in Montreal. He admits that there’s a little rust to his game after this year and that he felt it when he took part in the Tropical Bowl. Scrape the rust away though and there’s a big and talented young offensive lineman that wants to play a lot more football before he has to think about what might be next for him.

“I’m just hoping it doesn’t take too much time,” he said of getting back into the rhythm of playing the game again.

“Whether I play with the Carabins, in the NFL or the CFL I think I’ll be all right.”

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