WIEBE: Hecht travels long road to starting job as Blue Bombers safety
Given the arduous journey and the amount of hard work it’s taken to get to this point, you can understand why Jeff Hecht wasn’t spending an inordinate amount of time patting himself on the back.
But as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stepped back on the field for the first full practice after training camp cuts, it was worth noting that Hecht was working at safety with the No. 1 defence.
When you’ve been a special-teams ace and backup for the bulk of a nine-year career and have 114 CFL games on your resume, premature celebration simply isn’t an option.
Not even when it appears Hecht will be a Week 1 starter.
“That’s what it looks like and it feels good. I’ve worked my (butt) off for as long as I can remember in life, that’s just what I do,” said Hecht. “It feels to get an opportunity and in the eyes of the coaches, took advantage of this opportunity. They’re confident enough to roll into today’s practice with me in there. Today, I’m the starter but tomorrow it could be Derek (Jones). He’s a great football player and is a high IQ guy, very athletic and is a difference-maker on the field as well.
“It’s now up to me to reward their confidence with my play, with my improvement and with my ability to help the defence be successful. I play hard, I play to the whistle. I don’t take any plays off. I’m not a guy who gets graded on a lot of loafs throughout my whole career. I’m going to give it everything that I’ve got.”
And because of that combination of work ethic and studious nature, Hecht is confident he can get the job done.
“Helping guys get lined up and understanding what offences are trying to do are my bread and butter, I guess,” said Hecht, 33. “With age comes wisdom. That’s not just an adage, it’s a fact. My most important asset is constantly blossoming. That’s why I survived. Now, with the way I train, how I eat and the life I live has manufactured me a chassis in which to carry my mind and now I’m able to put it all together.”
With the departure of Taylor Loffler in free agency to the Montreal Alouettes, Hecht realizes he has big shoes to fill.
But he’s not going to try and be Loffler either.
“It’s my job to prevent that question from being asked too many times this year, if that makes sense,” said Hecht, who played 14 games with the Blue Bombers last year and had eight defensive tackles, seven special-teams tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. “When people are asking about the guy who was before you all the time, who had the personal accolades that he had. Three all-stars in his first three years, there’s only a handful of guys who have done that in CFL history. But it’s my job to keep the name from coming up. Lets talk about the successes that we’re having. If it happens too often, then I know that I have to make some corrections and some improvements.
“It’s like a forge and fire kind of situation. I sometimes tell people that my scars will tell my story. I’m battle hardened in that sense. I took defensive snaps in my very first game and I’m still taking them now.”
Hecht has lived a bit of a nomadic life during the past decade, moving from city to city from his time playing junior football with the Edmonton Wildcats and Canadian college football with the St. Mary’s Huskies to stops with four CFL teams.
“It’s been 12 years since I’ve lived in the same city for more than six months straight,” said Hecht, who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Alouettes before spending time with the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders before joining the Blue Bombers. “Sometimes, if you just put your head down and work, you’d be astonished when you pick your head up with what you could have built. That’s kind of where I’m at now. I’m in my ninth year and it’s very cliché, but it’s flown by. I’m the oldest non-specialist on the team and the 17th oldest football player in the league now. It’s still weird to me because I don’t have any grey hair. (Football) is one of the things I love to do.
“There are going to be a lot of great things in my life after football, but as long as it’s fun, it’s worth it. And it’s still fun.”
What has Hecht done to show he’s ready to take on a larger role in the eyes of the coaching staff?
“He communicates. He knows what everyone else is supposed to be doing and he helps put them in the right spots,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “That’s what a free safety should do. And the free safety always has to make up for the first mistake. So a guy that can recognize where that mistake is happening before it does and before it gets you in trouble – those are things that are important for that position. Being the veteran that he is and being in good defences and being coached well, he’s a vocal guy because he’s seen a lot, had a lot of experiences and he’s willing to pass that along to the everybody around him.”