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April 24, 2019

Mini Camp Report | Lucky Whitehead looking for a second chance

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Lucky Whitehead (87) runs after catching a pass during a team mini -camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Photo by Tom O'Neill

BRADENTON, FLA – If and when the biography of Lucky Whitehead is penned, there will be at least two absolutely can’t-put-down, page-turning chapters.

There was the time he was cut by the Dallas Cowboys after a failure to appear in court for arraignment on a shoplifting charge in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

And then there’s the tale of how his dog ‘Blitz’ was kidnapped and held for ransom.

Wait… what?

First thing’s first, let’s get to the here and now and how Whitehead is one of a collection of receivers who had an excellent first day in two sessions of Winnipeg Blue Bombers mini-camp at the spectacular IMG Academy.

That’s an important development because the receiver position is a focus for the Bombers as main training camp is soon scheduled to open. And it’s critical for Whitehead, who is trying to get his career back on the rails after he appeared in 30 games over two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015-16, serving primarily as a punt and kickoff returner.

Lucky Whitehead with the Dallas Cowboys

He had a look-see from the New York Jets in 2017, but then a series of injuries began piling up and have since kept his phone silent until the Bombers came calling.

“(The lack of NFL interest) was a little surprising, but I’ve had a couple of injuries I had to get over and once I got ready to play, I started to get into a little trouble off the field, so I had to clean that stuff up,” Whitehead explained Wednesday. “I’m just glad I got a call. I’m excited to be out here right now letting it all fly. I’m glad I got a second chance. I had a hamstring injury I was dealing with and it messes with you mentally. I feel great now and just glad to be out here.”

Whitehead is desperate to assert himself again as a game-breaking return threat and receiver so that a Google search of his name doesn’t first spit out the stories of mistaken identity and a dog held for hostage.

In the meantime, those tales are worth revisiting for a Bombers audience.

In June of 2017, Whitehead was arrested for a shoplifting/petty larceny charge of less than $200 from a convenience store in Virginia. A warrant for his arrest was then issued for failing to appear for his scheduled arraignment.

But here’s where the story gets goofy: it turns out one of Whitehead’s friends – then friends – was the actual suspect and he had provided the player’s name, birth date and Social Security number that led to the arrest.

That didn’t stop the Cowboys, who were running through a string of off-field incidents at the time, from dumping Whitehead before he had a chance to explain the details and was exonerated.

“It was definitely hard,” Whitehead said. “It was a close friend who took my identification. It was just a messed-up situation and I didn’t really get the chance to clear my name before I was released.

“But they say everything happens for a reason and I learned from it. Now I just have to watch who my friends are.”

He might also want to watch who keeps an eye on his English Bulldog, Blitz, as well. And that leads us to the dog-napping tale…

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Lucky Whitehead (87) runs after catching a pass during a team mini -camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. | Photo: Tom O’Neill

Two summers ago, Whitehead took to social media to report someone had stolen his dog and was holding him for ransom. It turns out a rapper from Fort Worth named Boogotti Kasino had the dog and posted several videos on social media with Blitz, demanding that Whitehead fork over $10,000. Kasino would later deny stealing the dog, insisting that an ex-girlfriend of Whitehead’s had brought the animal to him and claimed the money wasn’t a ransom, but money the player owed him.

“I was in Miami at a friend’s birthday and I got a couple of blocked calls and then my boy that was watching my house asked if I had sent somebody to my house to pick up the dog,” said Whitehead. “I got a couple of calls asking ‘How much do you love this dog?’ and ‘If you want the dog back, you’ve got to pay $10,000.’ I thought, ‘Man, this can’t be real.’

“I flew back to Dallas that day and kept getting the calls, but they would never say who they were. It’s always a waiting game with this, but as far as attachment me and that dog have, it got real crazy over this. He was probably eight months at the time.

“I was just glad I got him back unharmed. And I didn’t pay any ransom. It got cleared up pretty fast and used social media. A lot of the fans helped me out. I guess it was a publicity stunt for (Kasino). He wanted to get his music out there. Whatever… it was just a messed-up situation and I’m just glad I got my boy back.”

Whitehead mentioned Wednesday he is intrigued by the space the CFL game offers, both as a receiver and a returner.

“I’m a receiver, but everybody knows I can return the ball,” said Whitehead with a grin. “I like returning. Everyone knows where the ball’s going, everyone knows who’s getting the ball. So it’s time to flip the field and make a play.”

Finally, the origins of ‘Lucky’…

Officially, Whitehead’s birth certificate lists his first two names as Rodney Darnell. But he wasn’t a day old when his uncle hung the ‘Lucky’ moniker on him.

“Lucky has been my name since birth,” he said. “That’s what I go by. (His uncle) came into the delivery room and asked my mom and asked where ‘Lucky’ was? My mom was like, ‘Who’s that? Who’s Lucky?

“It just stuck from there.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Head Coach Mike O’Shea addresses his team after a morning workout during a team mini-camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. | Photo: Tom O’Neill

CAMPING OUT – DAY 1 OF BOMBERS MINI-CAMP

ALL EYES ON:

The collection of talent here is dominated by receivers and defensive backs, as they make up 30 of the 40 spots. Among those we would say had good days were receivers Rasheed Bailey – who caught everything – as well as Garrett ‘Juice’ Johnson, Lucky Whitehead, Drew Morgan, Chris Hubert and Matt Hazel and defensive backs Joe Este and Malike Boynton.

Linebacker Jarnor Jones and DB Malik Reaves also had interceptions in the afternoon session.

FYI:

There are seven players in camp who came along from the ashes of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football: QB Kevin Anderson (Orlando Apollos), DB Malik Boynton, LB Dale Warren and WR Drew Morgan (Memphis Express), RB Larry Rose III and WR Kenny Walker III (Arizona Hotshots) and Josh Steward (San Antonio Commanders).

“The leadership was there, the coaches were there, the people were there… everything was set in place,” said Morgan, when asked for his take on the AAF. “I’m trying to be as positive as I can because I was really upset about it at the time. We got billed, we got charged with a lot of fees… that’s on them. We literally got kicked out to the curb.

“Thank God my friend Johnny Manziel helped out. He’s a good guy. He bought hotel rooms, he bought Air BnB’s. He was like, ‘Hey man, stay for a week, go out to eat, I’ll take care of you.’

“I came out for practice and nobody was there. I was like, ‘What the heck’s going on?’ I guess they sent out a memo, but I wasn’t on the text (he was returning from injury) and I was left out. The equipment guy came by and he said, ‘We’re done.’”

THE COACH SAYS:

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea referred to the camp participants as a talented group that was conscientious in the team meetings Tuesday night. That’s a tip of the hat to Danny McManus, Ted Goveia and Ryan Rigmaiden, who have spent years tracking players all over football’s map to get them to a camp like this.

“I talked to Ted, Danny and Ryan and they’re pretty excited,” said O’Shea. “This is what they wait for. They spent a lot of time and energy in the offseason trying to get to this point where we can see these guys.

“The coaches (Paul LaPolice, Richie Hall and Glen Young are all here) are excited because they get to stop watching film on losses and get in here and coach and give them just enough to see how well they learn and keep it simple enough that they can play fast and show what they can do athletically.”