Bomber for life: O-lineman Neufeld signs new deal to stay where he wants to spend rest of CFL career

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When Pat Neufeld arrived from his home province of Saskatchewan, after getting traded away from his hometown team back in 2013, he was not at all sure what he was getting himself into.

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“When I first got to Winnipeg, it was obviously a team and organization that was kind of in turmoil,” Neufeld said of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“Just a lot of changes happening. It was one of those places that was a have-not kind of club at that time, unfortunately.”

He might have been tempted to just turn around and head back to Regina, where he had played the first two-plus years of his career as a CFL offensive lineman with the Roughriders, but Neufeld wanted to stick it out.

Eight years and two championships later, he’s awfully glad he had those instincts.

On Tuesday, the 33-year-old all-star guard signed a one-year contract extension with the Bombers and will suit up for his eighth season with the team in 2022.

In doing so, he made it clear he wants to be a Bomber for life.

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“I want to, obviously, spend the rest of my career here, for however long that’s gonna be,” Neufeld said on a conference call. “For me it was a no-brainer.

“For me, it was never thinking of free agency. I knew I wanted to be back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wanted to get a deal done and make sure I could get back with the club that I really care about and have a ton of fun being a part of.”

Neufeld has long been considered one of the true building blocks of a Bombers organization that has set the standard in the CFL in recent years.

The trade that brought him to Winnipeg, in exchange for all-star defensive end Alex Hall, in the 2013 season has been pointed to by general manager Kyle Walters as a move that got the ball rolling for a team that has now won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons and has back-to-back Grey Cup titles.

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“I wasn’t playing in 2013 but they trusted me and I ended up coming back and there was myself, Jake (Thomas), and Jesse (Briggs) around in 2014,” Neufeld said.

“We just started building from there. (Head coach Mike O’Shea) had a vision and direction, same with (Walters), and they just stuck to it. It took some time but I think it was just Osh and Kyle bringing in guys that wanted to win the right way with the right people. They never wanted a locker room filled with egos or that kind of thing. They definitely wanted guys that loved being teammates and cared about each other.”

The last two seasons, Neufeld has been part of a dominant offensive line in Winnipeg and in 2021 he was named a CFL all-star for the first time in his career.

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Working alongside all-star tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick, all-star guard Drew Desjarlais, and CFLPA all-star centre Michael Couture, Neufeld flourished, even playing several games at right tackle, when Hardrick was injured.

Only Hardrick and Neufeld have re-signed for 2022 at this point. It’s expected Bryant will be back as well, but Desjarlais is getting a lot of interest from NFL teams and it will be interesting to see if there will be enough money to put the whole offensive line band back together after two championship seasons.

No one envies the job that Walters has right now, trying to re-sign as many as possible of the 49 players who entered the off-season as potential free agents.

“It’s hard to deal with because the number looks pretty imposing, but I think a ton of those guys in the locker room really want to come back,” Neufeld said. “The amount of work they’ve put in, the amount of time and effort and seeing the fruits of our labour with our back-to-back championships, guys want to come back and play here now.

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“Obviously some guys won’t be around or won’t come back, that’s just the nature of the business, but I think it all makes the job a little easier for our front-office guys, just because a lot of guys do want to come back and be around the building. It’s taken some time to get to where we’re at but obviously we’re at the pinnacle of the CFL now and guys want to be around and play here.”

Behind the work of their offensive line, the Bombers finished second in the CFL in rushing yards in 2021 and allowed the fewest quarterback sacks during the regular season.

While “Bomber for life” could technically mean just one more season for Neufeld, he doesn’t sound like he’s planning to retire any time soon.

“Yeah, you know, aging like a fine wine,” he said. “I think the older you get and the more live football you’ve been around, it’s kind of a wisdom thing and a recognition thing.

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“I was very lucky, in my rookie year in Saskatchewan, to play with (Hall of Famer) Gene Makowsky (of the Roughriders) and I was just amazed at his ability to predict things before they happen. I told myself, I want to get to that stage of my career where I’m not out there just guessing or hoping that something’s happening, I’m dictating or reacting to what’s happening.

“I think I’m getting close — there’s a long way to go to be at Makowksy’s level, or Chris Walby’s level — but playing a lot of football and playing for the same organization helps you get to that stage.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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