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Former Redblack fan favourite Jon Gott talks about his new look

Jon Gott’s famous beard is gone, so are 40 pounds.

It’s part of the former Ottawa Redblack’s transformation from a longtime CFL player to everyday life — he’s now living in Kelowna, B.C., doing landscaping while he figures out what he wants to do next in life.

A two-time CFL all-star and a Grey Cup champ with the Redblacks in 2016, the 34-year-old Gott says he’s done with football. He’s unofficially, but soon to be officially, retired.

The long, bushy beard, which had hung from his face for 10 years, was chopped down to about a quarter of an inch of stubble a week-and-a-half ago.

“It was getting too hot (to have a beard),” said Gott. “It was time to move on from it. I went into the bathroom, took out some clippers and trimmed it. My girlfriend didn’t recognize me.”

Being away from football since the end of the 2018 season has also trimmed weight away from his 297-pound offensive lineman body shape.

“There’s no coming back now, unless I’m playing tight end,” joked Gott over the phone earlier this week.

Gott played with the Calgary Stampeders from 2009-13. The Redblacks picked him up in a CFL Draft-day trade in 2014, giving up their first overall selection (Pierre Lavertu). Gott was a Redblack until the 2018 season. It was during that final year in Ottawa that the centre was benched for several weeks. Until that August, he had started 46 consecutive games for the Redblacks when healthy. He didn’t even dress in the post-season, watching from the sidelines as the Redblacks lost 27-16 to the Stampeders in the Grey Cup.

A guy who was one of the heart-and-soul guys of the locker room was hurt by what happened that season. He understood the business and politics of football, but that didn’t make it much easier at the time.

“I miss football, but there are some things I don’t miss about it,” he said. “The business and politics side of football, I don’t think anybody likes that side of it. There was (a sour taste from his final year in Ottawa). But I tried to be as professional as I could. I helped on the sidelines. But at some point where they jerk you around so much, it gets to you.

“Really they didn’t give me a chance to prove I could still play. That was the toughest thing. You know you can still play at a high level. They made their decision and moved on. I understand, that’s part of the business. But I had put so much into the team. It’s tough that it ended that way.

“All you want is an honest answer. I couldn’t get a straight answer (why I wasn’t playing). (Head coach) Rick (Campbell) pulled me aside and we had a chat. But I never really got an explanation why. They just told me what the plan was going to be. They don’t have to explain their reasoning, I guess. It’s just how it is. I came to peace with it.”

Gott was one of the team’s more recognizable players, largely because of the beard. He also got widespread notoriety in the final game of the 2018 regular season when, after a touchdown, he ran to the back of the end zone and chugged a tallboy of beer, handed to him by girlfriend Nicole Hilstob in the Subaru Log Cabin fan area. A video clip went viral, leading off highlights reels on ESPN’s SportsCenter. 

“I have a lot of great memories playing in Ottawa so I can’t really let the last season ruin everything that happened there,” said Gott. “The whole city embraced me from the start. For some reason they loved me and my beard.”

Following that 2018 season, Gott had a couple of teams (one of them, the B.C. Lions) ask about signing him. But Gott decided it was time to put the game behind him.

“It was very tough to leave Ottawa,” he said. “It was just time for me to move on, I could see the writing on the wall. I wanted to stay, but how everything went down my last year — that wasn’t a fun season for me. You do football for 15 years from college to pros and you get your body ready to go hit, you get that itch before spring camp. I got the itch last year, but I couldn’t hit anybody. I think it was the right time to walk away. My body’s feeling great now. I’m just enjoying life. There were parts of my body that were starting to say no. Concussions — I was lucky I had them earlier in my career. For the most part, I walked away healthy.”

While the Redblacks won the Grey Cup in 2016, Gott says the 2015 team, in his opinion, was better.

“Our second season, 2015, that was probably the most fun I had playing professional football,” he said. “We had the right coaching staff, we had the right players — we just had fun.”

Gott and Hilstob still have a spinning studio — SPINCO — in downtown Ottawa. She’s also managing a SPINCO in Kelowna.