Like a number of players who signed with new teams as free agents in 2020, Don Unamba was in an interesting place when his one-year deal was set to expire a few weeks ago.
He had signed with the Ottawa REDBLACKS last year after hitting the free agent market, joining the sixth different team of his career. But as fate would have it, thanks to the cancelled 2020 season due to the pandemic, Unamba hadn’t lined up for a single play in his new colours.
“It was big time for me, just because I haven’t played a down for Ottawa yet,” Unamba told OttawaREDBLACKS.com when asked why he wanted to re-sign in the nation’s capital. “I haven’t gotten the chance to come out there and experience it, experience how they do things in Ottawa.
“Ever since I thought about signing there, before I signed there last year, I heard nothing but good things about the city, the people there and the organization. I did want the opportunity to come out there and live it for myself. It was going to be disappointing for me if I didn’t get a chance to get out there.”
It’s unique, but it’s been the reality for many players around the CFL. The promise of a new season was a sure bet in February of 2020, about a month before life as we know it changed and about six months before the announcement that the season had been cancelled. Without a campaign, it meant the players who had signed deals with new clubs wouldn’t get to lineup on the field in their new jerseys.
It also meant that Unamba, along with the rest of the players across the league, had to find something else to do with the extended off-season away from the field. Along with staying in shape for when football returns, Unamba took a job as a welder. Most recently, he signed on as a coach in the Fan Controlled Football League, working with the linebackers and the secondary.
“It’s been pretty tough,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve went without playing football for a whole year so it’s been different. I’ve had to adjust. I’ve had some time to spend more quality time with family, with friends.”
It makes sense that Unamba is in the coaching position he’s in, since he’s played in almost every position in the secondary as well as WILL linebacker since he joined in the league in 2014. However, it wasn’t until he made the move to SAM linebacker, which happened ahead of the 2018 season in Hamilton when he noticed injuries at the position and approached his coaches about making the switch, that he really found success. That season he hit a career-high in tackles (59), and tallied four sacks, an interception and scored a touchdown, solidifying himself as a premier cover linebacker with an innate ability to get after QBs.
With his best season behind him, the 31-year-old signed with Edmonton as a free agent ahead of the 2019 campaign. Injuries held him to just 12 games in green and gold but he still managed to accumulate 43 tackles, an interception and a career-high six sacks.
That’s when he, once again, found himself with an expiring contract. He tested the waters and landed in the nation’s capital, where he inked a one-year deal this time last year.
Now, with the league announcing a schedule and the prospect of the season hopefully going to be a reality, Unamba is ready to get things going with his new team. More specifically, with the linebacker crew that consists of Jerrod Fernandez, Avery Williams and free agent pick up Micah Awe.
“They play hard,” Unamba said of his fellow linebackers “I watched the film, I played against them so I know they’re going to be ready to play. We put it all together, we can do something special.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
If you take a look at Unamba’s Twitter, you’ll see “The President” as the name on his account. It’s a nickname that has stuck around the league, with fans, media members and alike jumping in on it, but where exactly did it come from?
— The President (@Don_Unamba1) June 15, 2019
Well, you’d have to look back at when Unamba was in Hamilton and look towards the team’s then defensive coordinator, Jerry Glanville. Glanville was in his first year in the CFL at the time, in 2018, and didn’t know everyone’s names just yet.
He’d be watching film and would see Unamba and ask, ‘who is this player making that play?’ and the other coaches would say, ‘That’s Unamba!’
“Then he started trying to learn my name and he botched my name,” laughed Unamba. “He started calling me Obama. So he called me Obama for a little bit. Then Obama turned into, when I made plays, he would yell, ‘The President!’ and The President stuck and everybody, the fans, the coaches and players made jokes and started calling me The President.”
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