He appreciated the opportunity the BC Lions gave him but the more he coached, the more Claudell Louis knew he’d rather be playing football.
After spending the 2021 season as a defensive assistant with BC, Louis decided to return to the trenches and signed with the Edmonton Elks.
“I knew I had football left in me,” said the 31-year-old defensive lineman. “Coaching just wasn’t something I was ready for at the moment. I always had the urge to go out there.”
Louis had kept in touch with Geroy Simon, Edmonton’s assistant general manager who had spent the previous seven seasons in the Lions front office. He jumped at the chance to play for Chris Jones, the Elks head coach and general manager who is noted for his aggressive defences, and defensive line coach Demetrious Maxie, a two-time CFL All-Star.
“It was the perfect timing,” said Louis. “The opportunity presented itself and now I’m here.
“I’m really enjoying my time here. It’s a hard camp, you’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
Even when he wasn’t playing Louis kept himself in shape and didn’t collect any rust.
“I was around a couple of guys in the off-season training,” he said. “They were telling me ‘you should go and see if you have another opportunity to sign because you really have a lot of football in you.’”
The six-foot-five, 293-pound Fresno State product played 20 games over two seasons with the Lions, recording 44 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. He was the Lions finalists for Most Outstanding Rookie in 2018.
BC didn’t renew Louis’s contract after the 2020 CFL season was cancelled due to COVID, leaving him a free agent. Louis was looking to join another team for the 2021 season when Rick Campbell, the Lions’ head coach and assistant general manager, offered him a job.
When Leroy Blugh, the Lions’ defensive line coach had to leave training camp due to health reasons, Campbell asked Louis if he was interested in joining BC’s staff.
Louis, who was born in Haiti and moved to in Boynton Beach, Fla in 2001, had remained in Vancouver after the birth of his son. He spoke to his wife about Campbell’s offer before deciding to accept.
“It was honestly a tough decision,” said Louis. “I knew I could still play and I wanted to play.
“I knew the hours that the coaches put in and I didn’t want to miss out on my son and helping my wife. She was all on board with it and I felt comfortable with it. I always thank Coach Rick for the opportunity.”
The Lions finished 5-13 in 2019 with a defence that allowed the third most points in the league and was last in sacks.
The transition from player to coach was a steep learning curve. Louis credits Ryan Phillips, the Lions current defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach Travis Brown for helping him adapt.
“Those two helped my development and understanding,” said Louis.
“I was watching film and now know more what to watch for, how to break down film, watch the tendency of the offensive lineman, what formation they are in.”
Louis also had to learn how to coach.
“Working with some of the players, I learned that everyone learns differently,” he said. “I had to really understand how certain players learn and how to relate to certain players.
“You have different people from different backgrounds. You really have to have the right approach to talk to them and try to get the best out of them when it comes to game day.”
Coaches also work longer hours than players.
“That’s something I had to get accustomed to going from playing to coaching,” he said. “When you’re playing, you’d be done after practice. But as a coach, after practicing you watch more film, do game planning.
“Coaches do a lot of work and that’s why I’m so appreciative of every coach that I’ve had now that I’ve been on that side.”
Louis played 26 games over three years at Fresno State. In his senior year he had 41 tackles, five sacks and received Honorable Mention Honors on the All-Mountain West team.
Undrafted, Louis spent time with the NFL Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings before joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017. In 11 games with the Lions in 2018 he had 31 tackles and two sacks.
The Elks open the regular season June 11 in BC. Louis chuckled when asked if he can give his new team any inside knowledge on his old club.
“I know some of the players and what they like to do on offence,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we will have some tweaks here and there.”
Happy to be back on the field again, Louis isn’t sure if he will return to coaching when his playing days are finished.
“You never know,” he said. “I didn’t even think I was going to get the opportunity to play in the CFL again but now here I am.
“Life works out like it’s supposed to work out. If I have the opportunity to do it, if my wife is on board with it, then I’d be good.”