Family in the stands ‘means everything’ … the consensus: expect a slug-fest … Ticats get rallying cry … Evans proud of Indigenous roots

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HAMILTON – Willie Jefferson’s grandmother is coming to the Grey Cup and to Canada for the first time.

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All the way from Beaumont, Texas.

“My mom is bringing her,” the Winnipeg Blue Bombers star defensive end said. “Last Grey Cup was her first time. She had so much fun, and she told my grandmother. And my grandmother said I make it again, she’s gonna come. It just so happened we came back-to-back, so she’s comin’.”

One of the reasons the Grey Cup is so special for players and coaches is the presence of special people in the stands.

“It means everything,” Jefferson said. “My grandma watches me on TV every now and then. For her to see me in person, watch me do what I do, that’s love.”

Jefferson’s wife, daughter and father will also be in Hamilton.

His partner on defence, Jackson Jeffcoat, will once again have his father, former Dallas Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat, cheering him on.

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After the Bombers won the 2019 championship, Jeffcoat said he was moved to tears when he saw his dad, a two-time Super Bowl winner whose favourite saying was “big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”

Jeffcoat had lived up to that in the 2019 game.

Quarterback Zach Collaros also looked for his family right after that game, and he’ll have them – his parents from Ohio, his wife, in-laws, plus a lot of friends – in attendance again on Sunday.

Jermarcus Hardrick got emotional just talking about having his wife and kids here.

“Just having them move from America… make new friends every year we move to Winnipeg because we rent here, we don’t go to the same school – they just do a lot to help me do this job,” Hardrick said. “I don’t give them enough credit.”

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The trip from Canton, Miss., to Canada will be a first, and a nice college graduation present, for the nephew of Darvin Adams.

“I tell him dress warm,” Adams said.

Stanley Bryant’s nephew already got onto the stage to see his uncle win the top O-lineman award on Friday. Now he’ll check a Grey Cup off his bucket list.

From Amarillo, Texas comes the wife, kids and in-laws of kicker Sergio Castillo, playing in his first Grey Cup.

Adam Bighill, in his third, will have his wife, kids and in-laws cheering him on.

“You want to share these moments with the people that mean the most to you,” Bighill said.

Head coach Mike O’Shea’s wife, kids, mother and sisters will be here, along with a bunch of buddies from North Bay, Ont., his hometown.

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And the list goes on.

Teams like the Bombers assign a staff member to help coordinate all the travel arrangements for family and friends, and while the COVID-19 pandemic has added challenges, it’s worth all the trouble.

TRACK MEET OR SLUG-FEST?

With a dry field, sunny skies and temperatures well above freezing expected Sunday, I asked players and coaches which of those two characteristics will better describe the game.

–Bombers RB Andrew Harris: “Both our front sevens are physical… I’m expecting it to be a slug-fest.”

–O-lineman Pat Neufeld: “It’s weird seeing this kind of weather in December, especially as a prairie guy. Personally, we like those grinder games.”

–Ticats coach Orlondo Steinauer: “I would say slug-fest. I don’t know why. Just ‘track meet’ doesn’t sound right.”

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–Ticats quarterback Dane Evans: “You can go into a game thinking it’s going to be 50-50 at half-time, and it could completely be the opposite of that. I honestly have no clue.”

–Bombers DB Nick Taylor: “With Hamilton it’s always a track meet. As long as we can keep the track meet to a respectful pace, we’ll be fine.”

–Special-teamer Thiadric Hansen: “It’s going to definitely be a slug-fest.”

–Receiver Nic Demski: “Somewhere in the middle. Probably more of a slug-fest. It is beautiful weather out here, but we’re definitely going to run the ball and I’m sure they’re going to try to run the ball, too.”

–OL Michael Couture: “Slug-fest. They’re going to to try and match our physicality.”

INSPIRATION

The Ticats are rallying around veteran D-lineman Ted Laurent, who needed emergency surgery on his appendix this week and won’t play.

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They got a surprise boost when Laurent showed up for Saturday’s team meeting.

“That was an emotional lift for our football team that he was sitting there,” Steinauer said. “He couldn’t laugh, like he regularly could. But it was important for him to be there.”

MORE INSPIRATION

It’s not well-known, but Evans, the Ticats’ quarterback, is part-Indigenous

“I don’t let many people know it… I just look like a normal dude,” Evans said. “That background’s a whole part of my history, part of half my family and I take a lot of pride in that.”

Evans says his great grandmother was taken off her land, forced onto a reservation, forced to have her hair cut and to learn English. She was the last one to speak her native language.

“You want to talk about resilience, she was able to learn English as a 12-year-old and our language, still know it. They never got it out of her,” Evans said. “When she passed in 2016 the language died, effectively.”

THE LAST WORD

“Really happy for the league, really happy for the country, having a year off and being able to pull this off this year. It’s been an amazing season. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.” –Bombers QB Zach Collaros

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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