Big Redblacks lineman Philippe Gagnon patiently waits for playing time
EDMONTON — When Philippe Gagnon was selected second overall by the Montreal Alouettes in the 2016 CFL draft, analysts talked about the huge 6-3, 311-pounder’s nasty streak and his strength.
At the CFL Combine, Gagnon hoisted the 225-pound weight 40 times, the most of any of the bench-press participants.
Ironically enough, with Gagnon, a guard, off the draft board, the Ottawa Redblacks took his Laval Rouge et Or teammate, tackle Jason Lauzon-Seguin, No. 7 overall.
The two became teammates again in the off-season when the Redblacks signed Gagnon as a free agent. Lauzon-Seguin was placed on the one-game injured list and missed Friday night’s game (a late start, 10 p.m., for Ottawa football fans) against the Eskimos (he was replaced at right tackle by Stephane Nembot, making his CFL debut), while Gagnon was listed on the roster, but didn’t make the trip to Edmonton.
It’s been a fight for Gagnon to work his way into the Redblacks’ lineup. For the most part, it has been Mark Korte, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Nolan MacMillan and Lauzon-Seguin (with rookie first-round pick Alex Fontana subbing in). But Gagnon says he’s not down about it; he’s patiently doing whatever the team needs him to do. Maybe the opportunity will come.
“Everything I do, I’m doing what I can to try and help the team win,” he said. “I understand the role given to me right now. I’m going to keep working at it, I’m going to keep grinding, I’m confident good things will happen in the future. It was the mindset I had coming in, it’s still the mindset I have, whether I get a start tomorrow or whether I don’t get a start for the rest of my career.
“I’m confident (that) if my shot comes, I can do the work. I’m confident of what I bring to the table. If my name’s called, I’ll be ready. I’ve always said I like to play football, not watch football. I want to be on the field as much as possible. But I understand there are a lot of guys here who are great football players, so there’s a lot of competition.
“I knew what the situation was when I signed. Really, I still enjoy coming to work every day. Yes, it’s a challenge. But this is the place I wanted to be. If I had to choose again today where I would sign, I’d still choose Ottawa. It’s a cliché saying good things come to those who wait, but it’s true. There are a lot of people who have been in the same situation I’m in, they waited, showed people they can do the job and then they get an opportunity.”
In Montreal, Gagnon, who will turn 27 later this month, learned from veteran offensive linemen like Jeff Perrett and Luc Brodeur-Jordain: “They kind of showed me the ropes.” A left guard most of his football life, he moved to right guard with the Als.
“It was a pretty big step for me (going from Laval to Montreal). My first year, everything was going so fast, everybody was flying around,” said Gagnon. “It’s slowed down for me. Nothing’s perfect, I have some work to do on every aspect.”
A knee injury sidelined him midway through the 2017 season, but he returned a year later. When it came time to decide where he would play in 2019, he picked the Redblacks over the Als.
Said Gagnon, who’s from L’Ancienne-Lorette, (part of Quebec City): “I’d heard nothing but good things about the team, everything I heard was fantastic.
He said going to a community with a strong francophone presence eased the transition. “I wouldn’t say that was the main reason I came to Ottawa, but it was a big plus.”
Asked what his strengths are as a football player, Gagnon said, “I’m physical and bring something to the table. I think my recognition and ability to understand what’s going on, that helps me.”
IN WITH THE NEW: Three Redblacks — receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes, offensive lineman Stephane Nembot and defensive back Maurice Fleming Jr. — made their CFL debuts Friday night
Asked about each of the players, Redblacks coach Rick Campbell gave a scouting report.
On Araujo-Lopes: “He’s more along the lines of a (DeVonte) Dedmon-style of player. He’s a shifty guy who can make people miss. It brings a different dynamic. We’ve been getting a lot of soft (defensive) coverage — people are trying to force you to throw the ball underneath. If you’re going to do that, you need to make the defence pay with guys who can make people miss tackles.”
On Nembot: “We’ve liked him from the beginning. He’s lined up there the whole time. He’s been ready to play either tackle position. He’s a big body, he just needs to get some experience playing there.”
On Fleming Jr.: “We have some really good DBs, some young guys we were fitting into the lineup. We are able to fit him in this week. He’s looked good in practice.”
THE END AROUND: Campbell was asked about losing some key players and the turnover on a Redblacks roster that played in last season’s Grey Cup: “In the CFL, with free agency and a lot of one-year contracts, you always get a group of players bouncing around. We lost some bigger-name guys that would have had bigger contract numbers, but we kept a pretty large group of core guys who have been around. It’s important to carry that core group to carry the torch from year to year.” … The Redblacks are home next Saturday, at 2 p.m., in an important divisional game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. A week later, the Redblacks are in Regina to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders, then will have a bye week.
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