Redha Kramdi is on the phone from Montreal and his voice is occasionally muffled by the excited screams of kids doing their thing at a playground in the background.
“Sorry,” began Kramdi, hustling to find a quiet place to be heard. “I’m just at my old school. I wanted to come back here to thank my old head coach and some of the teachers and people who supported me, especially at a time like this.”
It was last week when we caught up with the University of Montreal defender, just a couple of days after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had made him their second pick, 16th overall, in the Canadian Football League Draft. Kramdi, the 24-year-old Montreal-born son of Algerian immigrants, was busy returning calls and making the rounds to shake some hands, offer some hugs and slap some backs for helping get him to the professional ranks.
Wild week? Yeah, and then some.
“It’s crazy. I talked to my agent in the morning of the draft and he saw me going early in the third round or maybe the Als (Montreal Alouettes) would take a shot and take me at #10,” Kramdi said. “I was sitting with my family in my living room on draft night and when the Alouettes took my (University of Montreal) teammate Pier Lestage, he called me. Then the 14 and 15th picks came in and I had to set up my laptop because I knew after the second round, TSN wouldn’t be showing the draft.
“I went to my room to get my laptop and when I got back to my living room my brother was hanging out with my two little cousins. Then all of a sudden my phone started blowing up and I lift my head up and see my name on TV. My brother started screaming. It was a moment of pure happiness and Coach O’Shea called me a couple of minutes later and we had a good talk.
“I can’t put it into words,” he added. “I’m just so thankful for everything. I’m thankful for the chance to play professional football. I’m thankful for the Bombers taking a shot with me. It was really a moment of pure happiness.”
It’s an interesting question with no quantifiable answer: how, exactly, do you measure an athlete’s passion for the game?
It can certainly show up on film, in work ethic, and in the results of the plays being made. It can show up in the weight room and in the dedication in aspects like diet and nutrition.
And for the Bombers, it can also come leaping out of a computer screen in a Zoom call like it did with Kramdi.
A demon on special-teams with the Carabins – Bombers GM Kyle Walters called his special-teams video was the best he had seen of all the draft candidates – Kramdi had lined up all over the field for Montreal during his college days, at halfback, corner and linebacker.
Asked by bluebombers.com what he thought was his best position, Kramdi paused for a moment. And then…
“My best position? My best position is defence,” he said with a chuckle. “I said this during my interview with Winnipeg: ‘Whatever you need me to play I’m going to try and be the best.’ That’s my mentality. I just love football. I love to learn about football. I love to play football. And the more I learn and play, the happier I am.
“I’m studying business at U de M, but my goal is to stay around football. I’d love to be a coach, a scout or even a GM someday. I just want to stay in the game because I love it so much.”
Kramdi’s official introduction to the game that is his passion came relatively late. His mother, Fatima Boussebt, and his father, Madani Kramdi, worked long hours – Fatima at a personal care home and running her own cleaning business; Madani as a cook – to help provide and have their son attend F.A.C.E, a prestigious art school in Montreal.
He often messed around playing the game with friends on any stretch of grass available, but it wasn’t until his best friend transferred schools to be able to play the game at an organized level that Kramdi had a decision to make. He was falling in love with football and with his buddy transferring, Kramdi approached his parents with an idea.
“I made a deal with my parents,” he explained. “I was at a good school, but the deal was if I could maintain a good average they would allow me to change schools and play football. I had an 88 average and they let me change schools (to École secondaire Dalbé-Viau). So, I didn’t officially start to play until I was 16.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really all that good at art. My parents just wanted me to be there because it was a great school. I was there since Kindergarten… I like art, but I wasn’t really an art guy. I learned to like it, but I was there because my parents got me in. I was always into sports. I played basketball, I played everything. My parents knew I wanted to take a different path.”
Kramdi spent two years there at Dalbé-Viau, then three more at Vanier College before heading to Montreal where he played for Danny Maciocia, now the Alouettes’ GM, but back then the boss of the Carabins program.
It was with the Carabins that he also met Kerfalla Exumé, the Bombers’ 2019 draft pick who has since returned to Montreal after signing a free agent deal with the Alouettes.
“Kerf was one of my best friends at U de M,” he said. “We were always hanging out together. We made some bets on special-teams tackles and things like that. My second year, his last year, he was our strong-side corner and I played SAM so we worked together.
“What he told me about Winnipeg was the coaching staff was outstanding. Then he just told me work hard. I promise you I’ll do that. But he also told me to just be me in the pre-draft interview I did with the Bombers.”
It was during that call that Kramdi might have sealed the decision for Walters & Co. Skill matters, obviously. But so, too, does a pure joy for the sport.
And Kramdi, as you can tell, has that oozing out of his pores.
“When I got the call from Winnipeg for the interview, I did the best I could to show who I am, even though it’s tough to do that with Zoom,” Kramdi explained. “I’m just thankful they’ve given me a shot. The words… it’s tough for me to explain how much it means to me because I just love this game so, so much.
“I mean, how can I explain it? For about three hours on game day nothing else matters more than winning a game. Maybe you have personal problems, love-life problems, family problems, school problems… none of that matters when you’re out there between four white lines to play football, to win every rep and win the game.
“That’s what I absolutely love about it.”