‘SOME­TIMES YOU HAVE TO PULL HIM OFF THE FIELD’

Red­blacks’ safety Pruneau anx­ious to get back to ac­tion af­ter re­cov­er­ing from bro­ken thumb

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - TIM BAINES tbaines@post­media.com

The big­gest pain for An­toine Pruneau dur­ing the six weeks he spent out of the Ot­tawa Red­blacks lineup prob­a­bly wasn’t the bro­ken thumb he needed surgery on.

It was the wait­ing and the watch­ing that were so ago­niz­ing. Anx­ious to play again and help his team­mates, Pruneau kept telling coaches and train­ers he was ready to go. This week, he fi­nally re­turned to prac­tice and is on track to play in the Nov. 18 CFL East Divi­sion fi­nal against the win­ner of Sun­day’s semi­fi­nal be­tween the B.C. Li­ons and Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats.

“It feels good to be back there,” said Pruneau, who may play with his cast on.

Asked if he would be ready to play in the East fi­nal, the Red­blacks’ start­ing safety said, “Ab­so­lutely. We wanted to test it early this week; I feel like I’m at 100 per cent and can help the team. It’ll be an or­ga­ni­za­tional de­ci­sion, but I’m an op­tion for them.”

Whether it’s the Li­ons or Ti­cats next week­end doesn’t mat­ter, Pruneau just wants to play.

“I wanted to play the next week (af­ter the in­jury),” said Pruneau. “I fin­ished the game af­ter I broke my thumb against Ed­mon­ton (Sept. 22). So I was think­ing, ‘Why am I not play­ing the next game?’ We had to do the surgery. I know there have been com­pli­ca­tions from play­ers who have come back too fast. I get it. But I al­ways want to be an op­tion for this team. When it hap­pened, I told them, ‘I’m here, it’s your de­ci­sion.’”

If the stakes had been higher, let’s say if play­offs had started a cou­ple of weeks ago, Pruneau would have fought like hell to re­turn.

“It would have been a big, big ar­gu­ment,” he said. “It al­ready has been. The med­i­cal staff did a great job get­ting me ready. We’ve had some good con­ver­sa­tions in the past few weeks. I know coach (Rick) Camp­bell kept say­ing (to re­porters) it was a weekly de­ci­sion. It was; he was fight­ing for me, too. But at the end of the day, you have to do the smart thing.”

While Pruneau was out, his house­mate J-P Bolduc stepped in and played safety. Bolduc was jok­ing the other day he’s glad Pruneau will soon be able to play.

“I’ve been in a bad mood the last few weeks,” said Pruneau. “When there’s foot­ball hap­pen­ing and I can’t be part of it, it’s re­ally tough. Dur­ing the off-sea­son, I can live with­out foot­ball. But when it’s out there in front of my face and I can’t play, I’m not in a good mood ... so I hope it never hap­pens again.”

One pos­i­tive thing: the thumb in­jury has al­lowed Pruneau’s body to heal from other in­juries. His neck and lower back were prob­lems ear­lier this year and he also had a charley horse.

Asked in mid-Au­gust about play­ing through the aches and pains, Pruneau said, “I feel like I’m my reg­u­lar age when we’re play­ing a game or when we’re prac­tis­ing, but when we’re not go­ing full rep, I feel like I’m 50. … On our off days, I feel like I’m even more than that. I don’t even have to wait for the morn­ing to feel it. If I sit on the bench five min­utes af­ter prac­tice, it’s tough to get up. The body gets sore, but it’s part of the fun, I would say. Ev­ery year, you hurt some­thing, whether it’s your neck, shoul­der, an­kles. You ac­cu­mu­late the in­juries. It’s a grind.”

Asked this week how he was feel­ing, Pruneau smiled and said, “I didn’t re­al­ize how bad it was un­til I came back this week and saw how fast I felt, how fast I could run. I feel like a mil­lion bucks. I’m match­ing up with re­ceivers bet­ter now than I was in the mid­dle of the year. I was re­ally banged up, my body needed a rest. Maybe it was meant to be this way. I feel bet­ter now than I felt at the be­gin­ning of the year. I feel like I’m 20 and a rookie out of col­lege foot­ball.”

In his fifth sea­son with the Red­blacks, the 29-year-old Pruneau has 50 de­fen­sive tack­les, plus six more on spe­cial teams (where he’s one of the team’s most im­por­tant play­ers).

“If Pruneau had his way, he wouldn’t lis­ten to doc­tors, he’d just play,” said Camp­bell. “He plays foot­ball the way you want it played. He’s a good player on de­fence, but an­other thing he doesn’t al­ways get credit for is his spe­cial teams play, es­pe­cially cov­er­ing kicks. He’s been one of our best around here the past few years.”

“Some­times you have to pull him off the field,” said Red­blacks de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Noel Thorpe. “He loves to play the game, it’s very im­por­tant to him. From Day 1, he was champ­ing at the bit to get back. It was just a ques­tion of get­ting him med­i­cally healthy and cleared. He stayed fo­cused through the time with the in­jury, whether it was meet­ings or watch­ing prac­tice. One of the tough­est things when you’re in­jured is stay­ing di­aled in men­tally. He did it.”

The end around: Of­fen­sive line­man Nolan MacMil­lan, out since the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, looks like he could step back into the lineup next week. Said Camp­bell: “He looks good, he made it through prac­tice this week. If he’s cleared and feel­ing good next week, he’ll def­i­nitely be an op­tion.” ... The Red­blacks coach­ing staff will likely gather at TD Place to watch the semi­fi­nals Sun­day. Said Camp­bell: “There will be a cou­ple of days to rest up. We had a good week of work (with prac­tices Wed­nes­day, Thurs­day and Fri­day), but it’s go­ing to be an­other mind­set as we get ready to play who­ever’s com­ing in for the East fi­nal.” ... There’s still time (ac­tu­ally, not much) to vote for the Red­blacks cheer team in the CFL Twit­ter awards (@CFLTAwards) semi­fi­nals. Dead­line to vote is Sat­ur­day at 10 a.m.

TONY CALD­WELL/FILES

Red­blacks safety An­toine Pruneau ex­pects to be back in the lineup Nov. 18 dur­ing the East fi­nal af­ter hav­ing surgery to re­pair a bro­ken thumb.

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