It was a busy Monday in Bomberland.
The biggest news of the day was the Blue Bombers announcing they’ve reached an agreement with star defensive end Willie Jefferson to have his contract restructured for the 2021 season.
Jefferson, the CFL’s 2019 Most Outstanding Defensive Player, had several NFL workouts after the Bombers’ Grey Cup run. With nothing coming to fruition down south, Jefferson re-signed with the Blue and Gold on a two-year deal back in Feb. 2020. The original contract had him set to receive a $150,000 bonus in three weeks. With CFL teams trying to cut costs owing to the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding 2021, many players like Jefferson who are owed off-season money are being asked to renegotiate their deals. Jefferson, who resides in Austin, Texas, will speak to the media this morning.
Joining the Bombers will be former Winnipeg Rifles and University of Manitoba Bisons receiver Macho Bockru. The Dakota Collegiate product was named a Canada West All-Star in 2019 after leading the conference with five touchdown catches. He also led the Bisons with 493 receiving yards on 34 catches. National defensive tackle Zach Houghron out of Wilfrid Laurier also inked a deal to join the Bombers.
But even with all of that going on, Bombers general manager Kyle Walters found the time to re-sign one of the team’s most important pending free agents left on the list: American defensive back Brandon Alexander. The 27-year-old from Orlando, Fla., will return to Winnipeg for a fourth season. Alexander, who started out at the University of Central Florida as a walk-on, got the Bombers off to an ideal start in the 2019 Grey Cup with an interception in the first quarter. Alexander has 126 defensive tackles, 12 special teams tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and one touchdown in 39 CFL regular-season games.
The decision to return to Winnipeg was easy for Alexander. He had no desire to test the free-agent market next month.
“I’m a guy of loyalty. One thing that never really mattered to me was money or being a starter or anything like that,” said Alexander in a conference call Monday.
“What does matter to me is people who really care and are genuine around the game and around people. And Winnipeg showed me that in the first year and I didn’t really need to see anything else. The last time I felt like that was at UCF and I had a phenomenal four years there. My three years in Winnipeg, we’ve had a phenomenal three years there. I don’t see anything as to why I need to change. I’ve only had two (head) coaches my whole career, college and professional and both coaches I love to death — coach (George) O’Leary and coach (Mike) O’Shea. It’s funny how both of them are Irish.”
Alexander missed eight games due to injury in 2019, a season in which he started the year at halfback before getting moved to safety, but he said he made the most of that time to become a better player.
“When I got hurt I actually started watching the game from different angles on the field — from the sidelines to the back of the end zone to the other side of the sidelines. I was just watching everything and everybody. It allowed me to expand my mind and see more, so I was able to communicate more even inside the meeting rooms,” he said.
“Just having that ability to talk to every guy or sit right now with every guy off the field and let them see what I see when I’m on the field. It worked out well. And to be honest with you now I’m glad it happened that way.”
As of now, the majority of the 2019 championship squad is set to return to defend their title in 2021. However, the Bombers’ secondary will look a lot different as two of their biggest playmakers, Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals) and Marcus Sayles (B.C. Lions), have moved on. The Bombers were able to re-sign reliable defensive backs Mercy Maston and Nick Taylor last week, but Alexander will find himself as the veteran of the group.
It’s a role he’s certainly ready for.
“I always came in as the guy who had to work for everything I had, whether it was basketball, football or track. I was not good when I first started, but I ended up being good because I just wanted to prove that I belonged on the team, not as a starter or anything, but just that I belong here,” said Alexander.
“I took that mindset from when I was a kid until now. When I was in middle school for some strange reason in the morning — school started at 9:30 — I was the guy who ran to school and it was a mile and a half away from my house. I would run to school every single morning. I don’t know why I did that as a kid. My mind was just programmed like that. That’s just me. That’s always been me. I always love to work hard in anything I do. If I’m going to do something, I might as well put my all into it. That’s why I feel like I am the way I am.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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