Ad­her­ence to scheme equals success for team

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE -

IDE­ALLY, you are not sup­posed to judge a book, or a CFL prospect, by its cover, but since there are only 25 days un­til the reg­u­larsea­son opener against the Mon­treal Alou­ettes, many of the books in camp are go­ing to have to be eval­u­ated solely by the il­lus­tra­tions on the front.

With only two pre-sea­son games to build a case, and not enough reps to go around, first im­pres­sions are crit­i­cal in to­day’s CFL, as no­body has time to read to Chap­ter 2, and most are likely to draw their con­clu­sions from what they’ve skimmed on the in­side of the dust jacket.

So where does a new prospect go for guid­ance on how to nail that initial im­pres­sion? While “be­ing seen and not heard” is al­ways a can’t-gowrong propo­si­tion for any new player to a team, it’s en­cour­ag­ing to hear high­pro­file vet­er­ans im­part words of wis­dom for how del­i­cate this bal­anc­ing act re­ally is — even from those who al­ready have their ros­ter spots locked up. For not only do new­com­ers — rook­ies and vet­er­ans alike — have to learn a new play­book, they also have to learn how to get along with the so­cial an­i­mal of the locker room.

Case in point, Justin Med­lock, a shoe-in to take over the kick­ing du­ties on the Blue Bombers, showed a level of in­sight to these locker room dynamics few vet­er­ans are even aware of. In his first in-house scrum in­ter­view, Med­lock said a cou­ple of things that show he is a big-picture guy and has an un­der­stand­ing of the sub­tle nu­ances that need to be rec­og­nized to be part of a suc­cess­ful squad in the CFL.

When asked about what kind of win­ning ways he’ll bring to the team, he said, “Lead­er­ship, but you know it’s hard. I’m new, so I’m try­ing to fit in. Not have them ad­just to me, right?” Those three sen­tences right there might be close to some of the most pointed and hum­ble phrases ever ut­tered from a high-pro­file free agent ad­di­tion, when dis­cussing join­ing a new team. Med­lock might have been in­structed to help over­haul a los­ing cul­ture and to change the for­tunes and vibe of all things blue and gold, but you don’t show up in Week One with a bull­dozer; you show up with a hard hat and a shovel. So many high-pro­file play­ers sign with a new fran­chise and try to make the room ad­just to them and their per­son­al­ity. They have lit­tle re­spect for those who were there before them, and lit­tle aware­ness for the group dynamics and lead­er­ship that al­ready ex­ist in the room.

One of the most com­mon mis­takes, and the down­fall of many a vet­eran, is as­sum­ing the size of their con­tract and for­mer suc­cesses equate to instant cred­i­bil­ity in the locker room. All-star de­fen­sive end Ja­maal Wester­man also echoed the sen­ti­ments of Med­lock in his initial presser when he re­flected on last year, his first year with the team, and said, “Last year I was kind of tip­toe­ing around, try­ing to see who’s cool and who’s not cool.” A more sub­tle way of affirming that to get along, at least ini­tially, you have to go along and walk softly. No mat­ter what you bring to the ta­ble, no­body likes a new hire that just as­sumes con­trol and re­spect before it is earned in the new postal code.

Talk­ing about what he could share from the suc­cesses he ex­pe­ri­enced in Hamil­ton with the Ti­cats, Med­lock said, “We did some good things in Hamil­ton. You know, my big­gest thing is, guys have to buy in. You can’t com­plain, you’ve got to buy in, you got to go out, you got to ex­e­cute.”

Once again, it may seem like ev­ery­day foot­ball­s­peak, but there are lay­ers and depth to these re­marks. The thing that sep­a­rates teams with tal­ent that have success, and teams with tal­ent that fail, is sim­ply the buy-in. It doesn’t mat­ter how many stars your ros­ter has picked up, if they don’t fully com­mit them­selves to the schemes and pro­grams pre­sented to them, they don’t have a chance to suc­ceed.

For a sea­son that has a lot of new, high-priced and ex­pen­sive parts try­ing to come to­gether and op­er­ate har­mo­niously on the same team, it’s en­cour­ag­ing to hear proof that many of them know ex­actly how it should be done.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hit­ting de­fen­sive line­man and fre­quently a hard-hit­ting colum­nist, ap­pears weekly in the Free Press.

Twit­ter: @DougBrown97

DOUG BROWN

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