CFL Pass

Bowman's Big 5: Former Eskimos great picks his all-decade receivers

Adarius Bowman is going to go ahead and save everyone some time and just pick the entire 2015 Edmonton Eskimos roster as his all-decade Canadian Football League team.

That season, along with the Grey Cup championship it ended with, stand as the pinnacle of a career that saw him hit the absolute heights in the realm of CFL receivers — who, along with the defensive backs charged with defending them, are undergoing voting by fans, media and fellow players until July 7 on

With 10 straight wins, including two against the rival Calgary Stampeders to close out the year hoisting the 103rd Grey Cup, the 2015 Eskimos proved unstoppable. At least, if not for the fact Chris Jones and his coaching staff departed for greener (think dollar bills, not watermelons) pastures in Regina just nine days into their reign as champions.

But before the rest of the pieces chipped away, they had formed the team to beat during Bowman’s decade.

“Straight up, all the way across the board. I agree with that,” said Bowman, who was the highest paid receiver in the league by the time he was released by Edmonton ahead of the 2018 season.

But looking back, where exactly does he see himself fitting in the CFL annals?

“I don’t know, I guess I’m right in the middle of both ends of that. You’ve got your Nik Lewises and also your Eric Rodgers and Luke Taskers, Bryan Burnhams,” said Bowman, who turns 35 on July 10. “I know Fred and Nik, if you were to shift those gates a couple years later, they would have crushed me with their stats.

“But it just so happened we fell right after and this was our decade. My list was my opinion, and I went with, of course: S.J. (Green), Nik Lewis, Freddy-Fred (Stamps), Weston Dressler, and then, honestly, my fifth one? That was tough. I went with Manny (Arceneaux).”

That’s not to take anything away from their younger counterparts.

“Greg Ellingson, he’s the man,” Bowman said of Edmonton’s current top gun. “I enjoy watching him play, but those five stood out, right there.

“In my run over that decade, those were the top guys.”

Bowman’s journey began in 2008, sleeping in a cramped dorm during Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp. And in his wildest dreams from a bed his feet hung off the end of, he didn’t see himself sticking it out up here for an entire decade.

“If there was a way to make a bet back then, I would have said that I was out of here in two years,” said Bowman, whose attitude began to change over the next two years, while working under Kavis Reed and Richard Harris with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“Leaving Winnipeg, heading to Edmonton because Kavis was getting that (head coaching) job, yeah, that was a turning point in my career,” Bowman recalled. “At that moment, that 2010 season, it crossed my mind a few times: ‘You know what, I’m good. I’ll just go back home.’ But guys like coach Harris and coach Kavis really shifted my thoughts and let me know about the values of being up here in Canada.

“And just the value of taking advantage of your opportunity when it’s in front of you. Imagine if I left here at that age, where I’d be today.”

Whatever he was instilled with that turned him into the player he went on to become, you can bet every last bit of it was transferred onto the up-and-comers on an Eskimos roster that would become a factory for prospective NFL receivers.

Derel Walker, Brandon Zylstra, Bryant Mitchell and Duke Williams all used their time in Edmonton to springboard into solid looks in the southern league.

“I know my time here in Edmonton could have made half that (all-decade) list: Your Derels, your Bryant Mitchells, your Kenny Staffords and Brandon Zylstras, I just watched so many young guys develop and succeed and I’m so proud of them,” said Bowman, who was sitting at the top when those guys were working their way into the professional ranks.

In 2011, his first year with the Eskimos, Bowman wasted no time proving his potential by finishing tied with Fred Stamps for the team lead with 1,153 receiving yards. And after Stamps led the CFL in receiving yards for a second time in 2013, Bowman completed the passing of the torch by taking up the mantra as league’s top receiver in 2014.

It’s a feat Bowman would repeat again when he and Walker ended up No. 1 and 2 in 2016, after Bowman ended up second overall on the way to the 2015 Grey Cup. In fact, an Eskimos receiver finished first and/or second in receiving yards every year from 2012-18, and claimed the top spot five out of those seven seasons.

“I remember my guy, Freddy, was kind of painting a role for me and showing me the value of the CFL and giving it your all every day,” said Bowman, who has made Edmonton home for his wife and their two young daughters. “You just never know what counts and what don’t, so having guys like that and seeing myself become the veteran of that group …

“And there were other young guys that were as talented as them, but it was just competition here in Edmonton for years.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge