CFL Pass

ET STAYS HOME: With baby due soon, Lattanzio happy to stick with Redblacks

For much of his five years in the Canadian Football League, Ettore (ET) Lattanzio has fought like hell to prove he belongs.

For the 29-year-old Ottawa Redblacks defensive lineman, there was nothing given — playing time was earned through tenacity and a work ethic passed along from his father, Rosario, who died in October 2016 after a 14-month battle with cancer at the age of 55.

The stakes for Lattanzio, who’s a hometown boy from Ottawa, are about to get higher. Ettore and his wife, Julie, are expecting their first child soon — they don’t know if it’s a boy or girl. So it was a relief when he finally got a one-year contract done with the Redblacks earlier this week.

“It was a bit of a grind,” said Lattanzio, who became a free agent Feb. 11. “But I had to make a decision that was best for myself and for my family. I had to take the money that I was offered. Given the current market with the new CBA and the increase in the minimum salary (from $54,000 to $65,000), that affects a lot of guys (each team’s salary cap went up just $50,000).

“The dialogue (with the Redblacks) was very open and honest. I don’t want to go into too much detail, I don’t want to incriminate myself, either, but everyone knows what is happening with the CBA. It’s just like real life — if there’s a pay increase or decrease, it’s the middle class that’s impacted. For guys in their second and third years, it’s a great opportunity. For guys like me, in their fourth, fifth or sixth years — maybe not starters, but solid rotational players — it affects the bottom line in the grand scheme of things. Overall, I’m content with what I’m going to get. I’m going to go out there and earn my money, like always.

“I know I’m not a marquee player, it is what it is. I wasn’t going to get that large contract that makes it enticing to leave. Plus, I have to keep things in perspective. I didn’t want to have to leave and play somewhere else unless it was really worth my while. I didn’t want to miss the first six months of my child’s life, I want to be part of that. Plus, I didn’t want to leave my wife alone.”

With his family in mind, Lattanzio has already started plotting the next stage of his work life. He plays in a sport where it’s often, “What have you done for us lately?” With that in mind, he’s finished most of his real estate courses.

“You asked me last year about how much longer I wanted to play,” he said. “At this point in my career, I’m trying to take it one day at a time. I’m ready for the inevitable future when I will have to retire, whether it’s next year, two years from now or whenever it is. Football is great, I love it. I’m privileged to have been able to play this long, but it’s not everything. Now that I have a wife and child to provide for. Football won’t be here forever for me.”

The story has been told — football analytics have long weighed against Lattanzio. Too short. Too small. But analytics be damned. Size may matter, but for Lattanzio there are always intangibles in play. For years, he’s produced results. With the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, he was named the country’s top college lineman, winning the J.P. Metras Trophy. His reward? Drafted by Winnipeg 38th overall in 2015, the Blue Bombers tried to make him a fullback. The experiment didn’t last long — he was cut by the Bombers at the end of training camp and picked up by the Redblacks.

“If I was a bit taller, a bit heavier, maybe things would have been different for me,” said Lattanzio, who had 25 tackles and two sacks last year for Ottawa and has 70 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles in his CFL playing career.

Rosario is never far from his mind. The father talked about being like Rocky Balboa, who went “the distance” — 15 rounds — against Apollo Creed in the movie Rocky. In Rosario’s case, it was about going 15 rounds of chemotherapy (he made it to 13). He plowed through complications, including a blood clot in his aorta that broke off and started to shut down his lower organs. An “old-school Italian,” Rosario was a talented artist, woodworker and national record-setting powerlifter.

After Rosario was gone, Lattanzio got a sympathy card from Paul LaPolice, then the Blue Bombers’ offensive co-ordinator and now the Redblacks head coach.

“I didn’t even know the man at the time,” said Lattanzio. “I thought that was a very classy thing to do. When I heard he was going to be the coach here, I was pumped. He’s a standup guy, the kind of coach you’d want to lead the team.”

The Redblacks will look a lot different in 2020 with LaPolice, several new coaches and plenty of new players. Rick Campbell, the Redblacks’ head coach from 2014-19, is now the head coach in B.C.

“I’m sure coaches, just like players, maybe sometimes feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome and it’s time for a change,” said Lattanzio. “I was sad to see Coach Campbell and a bunch of the coaches leave — (defensive line coach) Leroy (Blugh) was like family to me. Not having those coaches around anymore will be an adjustment, but change can be a good thing.”

The Redblacks will be looking to turn things around on the field. After three Grey Cup appearances in four seasons (winning in 2016), Ottawa fell off a cliff in 2019 (with a 3-15 record).

“There were a lot of factors that affected the outcome of the season,” said Lattanzio. “I don’t know if there’s one thing in particular you can put the blame on. When you lose your (offensive) co-ordinator (Jaime Elizondo) in the off-season, that was devastating. We also had a lot of injuries. It was pretty much the perfect storm, where anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. I thought, on paper, we had a good team, it just didn’t come together. It’s up to us and the staff to get ourselves back to where we want to be as contenders.

“I never want to put my foot in my mouth and say too much, but I’m very excited and optimistic that we will be competitive. I know the guys up top are doing everything in their power to get us there again. It’s going to be special to be able to play, then after the game to be able hold my child.”

With each season, as he gets older, Lattanzio has found new perspective. Take a minute to breathe in the moments and the memories because it won’t last forever.

“I wasn’t ready to walk away,” he said. “I didn’t want to stop playing. I really wanted to have another shot. I don’t think any player wants to end his career after something happens like it did to us last year. It happens, sometimes that’s the way it is, sometimes that’s the way you leave the game, but I want to end my career on a high note.

“Last year, sometimes it was hard to go to work; you’re losing and things are going on that are our of your control. This year, I want to try and enjoy it. As I’m getting older, I’m putting things in perspective more than I used to. I realize that things don’t last forever. This is a dream job for a lot of people. I want to soak it all in and hope to be successful for however much longer I play.”

ALSO IN SPORTS

FREEBIE: Ottawa 67’s offer free tickets for Feb. 25 School Day game

Atletico Ottawa’s CPL home opener will be May 16

Phillips celebration an all in the family occasion for Batherson

Source: winnipegsun.com




More on this: 737 stories