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February 14, 2018

Coming Full Circle | Demski & LaFrance Back Home

Kienan LaFrance (left) and Nic Demski (right).

It happens almost daily for both Nic Demski and Kienan LaFrance. A guy drives through his neighbourhood – whether it be Charleswood or St. James – and the houses, the storefronts, the restaurants, the football fields and landmarks all become more and more familiar.

As much as football players don’t like to spend a whole lot of time doing the nostalgia thing – that’s for when the cleats are hung up for good – it’s virtually impossible not to reminisce a little bit on the day a guy comes home, as both Demski and LaFrance did this week by signing free agent deals with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“Charleswood Broncos were my first club,” began Demski Wednesday, not long after a press conference welcoming the pair to the Bombers was held across the hall from his old University of Manitoba Bisons locker room. “I was seven years old… that’s 17 years ago now. I still live in Charleswood, my family is still in Charleswood. I see that Broncos field and the field at Oak Park (High School) all the time. And all the hockey rinks I used to play at, too.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that I’m back where it all started. And here I am at the same field where I started to make a name for myself with the Bisons.”

 

LaFrance, meanwhile, is also a Bison alum and a former Winnipeg High School Football League star, too, after suiting up with the Sturgeon Heights Huskies.

And before that…

“My first team… St. James Rods. Rods are Gods to me,” said LaFrance with a grin. “I just drove by there. I still live in St. James and drive by the Rods field all the time. I have a plaque with my name on it at their clubhouse. It’s hard not to reminisce.

“The thing is, I grew up a Bomber fan. My grandparents are fans, everyone around me are Bomber fans… they weren’t REDBLACKS (the team that drafted him in 2015) fans. You feel that everyone is more happy for you now, that they can relate. Look, my experience in Ottawa was amazing. My experiences in Saskatchewan were amazing. But coming back home… it’s fun. It’s exciting.”

The two Winnipeggers were signed for bigger reasons than just the hometown angle, of course. Demski, a receiver/returner, flashed his skills early last summer – he had 14 catches for 169 yards in the first two games – before a broken foot on Labour Day sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’ll get the chance to start in Winnipeg’s new-look receiving corps, one that has also added Adarius Bowman, while Julian Feoli-Gudino (who has signed in Ottawa) and Clarence Denmark are testing the free agent market.

LaFrance offers depth behind running back Andrew Harris, but also gives offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice another dual-threat running back/receiver type to go along with Demski and Timothy Flanders.

 

“This felt like a no-brainer place to go,” said Demski. “About five minutes before (LaFrance) signed, he sent me a message with a couple of emojis and I thought, ‘OK, this guy is about to sign in the same place. I can’t get rid of the guy.’ We’re here.

“I was looking for the best opportunity for me. It was never in the plan to just sign in Winnipeg immediately after my contract was done. It was just the best opportunity and the best fit for me.

“Honestly (the decision) wasn’t even about coming home. It was about what kind of offence it is and I think my skillset is going to be great in this offence. They like my versatility and with a guy like Matt Nichols throwing you the ball and having weapons around you, a lot of stuff is going to open up. Coming home just adds to the effect.”

LaFrance also downplayed the coming-home angle on Wednesday, although clearly it was a factor in his decision to sign with the Bombers. But, like Demski, he also talked about opportunity in LaPolice’s offence, although he’ll presumably have more work to do to get touches than his former Bisons teammate. He’s coming off a 2017 season in Saskatchewan in which he had a career-high 68 catches and 14 receptions and will still fight for more snaps.

“I was looking at the best fit for myself and the opportunity for the next few years,” he said. “I thought that Winnipeg presented that. There were definitely some (other) options out there. I always felt that I brought more to the table than just playing running back. Hopefully we can explore those talents. I bring special teams to the table, good solid back-up Canadian if that’s the case and catching the ball out of the backfield… that’s all something I’m going to work towards.”

Demski and LaFrance double up the hometown quotient on the Bombers roster as they join Harris and linebacker Thomas Miles, a Churchill High School product and another former Bison. They’ve all played at Investors Group Field before, of course. But running out of the tunnel as a member of the Bombers will present a much different vibe.

“It’s great. There are a lot of Winnipeg natives here and we all have one goal in mind and that’s to bring a Grey Cup back to Winnipeg,” said Demski. “I know a lot of the guys on the team, too… Moe Leggett, Kevin Fogg, a bunch of these guys. It’s a great group of guys and I’m happy to be here.

“I’ve definitely envisioned (running out of the tunnel as a Bomber) before. I’m sure any kid would envision playing for their hometown team. Now that I get to make it a reality, it’s pretty sweet.”