‘SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO PULL HIM OFF THE FIELD’
Redblacks’ safety Pruneau anxious to get back to action after recovering from broken thumb
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.
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.