CFL Pass

Trio of Canadian Football League players taking a run at bobsled

Shaq Murray-Lawrence is a bobsled sponge.

He watches tape every day, takes copious notes, and picks the brain of pilot Taylor Austin and any other experienced slider who will offer advice.

“I’ve got to learn all the fine points,” said Murray-Lawrence, who is among a group of three Canadian Football League players making bids as bobsled brakemen for the national team in Whistler, B.C.

Murray-Lawrence is a 27-year-old running back who was drafted by the Lions in 2015 but is now on the Montreal Alouettes’ roster. Saskatchewan’s 6-foot-3, 200-pound DB Jay Dearborn and Kayden Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 223-pound running back drafted by B.C. in 2020, are the others. Their attention to detail has made quite a first impression.

“The one thing that really comes out with these three is they are committed,” said Morgan Alexander, high performance manager for Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton. “They’re the first ones to show up and they are fully present in what they’re doing. It’s a challenge when athletes are doing double-duty or trying to dip their toes in before they decide which sport to do. But they are present and committed in every session and the coaching staff couldn’t be any happier.”

In Canada, the other sports which have been the main sources for new bobsledding talent have long been football, rugby and track and field. Alexander said the gridiron game often provides the best all-round prospects, and the transition from the CFL has been made successfully by the likes of Jesse Lumsden, Sam Giguere and Dexter Janke. Canadian university football has produced Ben Coakwell, Lyndon Rush and Nick Poloniato.

“I think the main thing that really encourages those athletes to get their feet in it and have some success early on is that they have some speed, strength and power attributes that are very well-rounded,” said Alexander.

“When we have track athletes out, they’re usually a little bit faster. Sometimes we get Olympic lifting athletes out that are a little bit stronger than football players.

“But football tends to be the sport, along with rugby, that produces the most ready-to-go athletes from Day One.

“They come from team sports that require a high standard of excellence and ask a lot of them. Particularly with guys from the CFL, they come in as professional athletes. They have notebooks, they study film. Their athleticism and those intangibles let them accelerate quicker through the development path than maybe some other athletes naturally would.”

These most recent CFLers to try the transition are all a little different.

“Kayden is a big, high-energy athlete. He’s one of the heavier athletes on our team. He has some strength and power,” said Alexander. “Jay, I believe had the farthest (broad) jump. When you are looking at horizontal force production, that test for him jumps off the charts. I don’t think we have seen Shaq at his healthiest yet. But he’s shown some really, truly, elite, world-class speed.

“All three jump off the page with some certain attributes and we have development to do with them. We think we can give them room to improve in an exciting way for everybody that results in some hardware on the podium.”

Whatever happens, they are trying to make the best of a bad situation. The CFL shut down officially on Aug. 17 and by Sept. 30, Murray-Lawrence was in Calgary, training for bobsled. It was a long time coming. He had been recruited about three years ago but was playing football for the Lions at the time, then sustained a concussion, back, neck and soft tissue injuries in a hit-and-run car accident in Surrey, B.C. in September of 2017 that cost him the rest of that season.

He signed as a free agent with the Als in February 2018 but failed his medical in May — there were lingering issues from the car accident — and didn’t play another game in the CFL until September 2019. That was also the year he attended his first bobsled camp.

“I kind of fell in love with it there,” he said. “It’s a very explosive, very powerful sport, and everything happens so quick. You have four-point-something seconds to get everything right, get in the sled and just hold on until you get to the end.

“I like the competitive aspect, and there is a different level of camaraderie. In football, you all belong to a league. This is for the country. To me right now it means a little bit more.”

He’s not sure how bobsled will pan out for him, nor can he predict whether the CFL will stage a 2021 season, given complications from the COVID-19 pandemic. But he does allow himself to think about a two-sport future and dream about a Grey Cup ring and Olympic medal.

“I can’t say which one would be more important. They would be equally huge accomplishments and something I am striving for.”

dbarnes@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

Source: www.stratfordbeaconherald.com




More on this: 71 stories