January 19, 2018

Chris Randle | All-Star, new father, and veteran leader

Chris Randle (8) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at New Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK, Saturday, July 1st, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Maybe it’s the tone that comes from his experiences both on and off the football field, or as a byproduct of his recent introduction to fatherhood.

It’s likely a little of both, perhaps, that led Chris Randle to thinking big picture as he fielded questions Friday afternoon upon the announcement he had signed a new two-year deal with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Randle, the 29-year-old cornerback named to the Canadian Football League All-Star Team and the Bombers’ Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2017, spoke about the brotherhood in the club’s locker room and his trust in the process as the franchise continues to morph from also-ran to contender.

He spoke about improving on a 2017 campaign that saw him finish with five interceptions, 60 tackles and two defensive touchdowns – all career bests – and what impact the alterations to the coaching staff made in the offseason might have on the defence.

But when asked how he might improve on an all-star campaign with such gaudy numbers, Randle offered the kind of unselfish, big-picture answer that makes him such a revered voice amongst his teammates.

“The No. 1 goal: win a Grey Cup. That would mean everything, even if the individual statistics aren’t there,” said Randle. “That’s the legacy we’re trying to build and that’s doing it for the city as well. That’s the main and No. 1 goal.”

“The second goal is to always be thankful for all that’s good in my life. Being blessed and playing with an organization that shows they value what I do and what I am as a person and a player. That’s what I’m thankful for and thankful for all the good things that are going to continue to occur.

“And another goal is to always be in position to make plays. I feel like there have been times where, with the longevity of a season, you’ve got to be able to be on top of it a little bit more. So I think there’s always room for improvement, for sure. My whole goal is to make more plays.”

Randle will enter his fifth season with the Bombers in 2018 and seventh overall after breaking into the league with the Calgary Stampeders in 2012. He was optimistic about his return after his exit meeting with GM Kyle Walters last November, saying “(Walters) let it be clear what the direction was and I’m just happy to be a part of the plan.”

Injury-free in 2017, he and pending free agent halfback T.J. Heath helped anchor the boundary side of a defence that took the ball away more than any other unit in the league, but has also surrendered more yards than any other over the past two seasons. Heath, along with linebacker Maurice Leggett, defensive end Jamaal Westerman, defensive tackle Jake Thomas, defensive back Kevin Fogg – along with linebackers Kyle Knox and Sam Hurl – are among the remaining pending free agents on Randle’s side of the ball.

“If It was up to me, I have a lot of guys I would love to play with and have alongside with me,” he said. “But I can’t really say too much more than that… I want (Heath) here, clearly, with the playmaking ability he possesses on our side of the ball and forcing turnovers. At the end of the day, our brotherhood will never waver.”

Randle is on a personal roll of late, having been part of a Bombers turnaround that has seen the team go 23-13 over the last two years while being named to an all-star, and along with his wife Kylie, welcoming their first child – a son named Winston – into the world last month.

The success of the football team, it would seem, helps offer part of a professional foundation that Randle coveted when contemplating the Bombers’ offer or waiting to test free agency.

“That was definitely part of it,” said Randle of the team’s camaraderie. “Whether you are part of a team or not part of a team that relationship will never go anywhere or waver with what we’ve built. We really are brothers, regardless of what team or the future outcomes. It is a business. To be able to be back in that environment where things are better than ever was a motivating factor to want to be there.”

Randle returns to a defence that, aside from a possible makeover depending on free agency, will also see change in the coaching staff. Earlier this month, head coach Mike O’Shea announced he would become more hands-on with the defence to aid defensive coordinator Richie Hall, while Glenn Young was promoted to become both linebackers and defensive line coach, and Jordan Younger was added as the secondary coach. Assistants Todd Howard and Tony Missick did not have their contracts renewed.

Randle weighed in on those changes and the state of the Bombers defence.

“We forced a lot of turnovers. I think we’re doing something right,” he said. “The core principle of what we’re trying to do, we have been getting done in flashes, but not enough. To keep the mind of it all, Richie Hall… he’s a very important pivotal piece to why we get those turnovers. He put us in position to make those plays. At the end of the day, we’ve got to fix something that is pretty obvious and those aren’t my decisions as to how we’re going to fix them.

“But hey, I’m down with the plan. I’m going to continue to do my part and continue to try and use my experience and what I know about the game to educate and uplift to the point where it’s not even a second thought. I’ve got to continue to do better myself.”