September 13, 2023

“To be able to communicate and make quick decisions, that’s what makes Redha special”

He is surrounded by stars, quietly shining amongst a galaxy of defensive player of the year candidates and future hall of famers.

And guess what? Redha Kramdi is absolutely cool with every single aspect of that.

Chances are not everyone in Bomber Nation is fully aware of Kramdi, the starting Dime back in a Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence which has recently returned to its ‘Dark Side’ stifling ways while causing nightmares for opposition offensive coordinators and quarterbacks.

Kramdi has quietly played a key role in that, having started the last seven games at Dime and seemingly improving with each snap. Praised for his skill, his football IQ and communication abilities, that growth seems light years from his rookie season back in 2021, when he arrived in rookie camp as the club’s second selection in the 2021 CFL Draft.

That first year might best be described as a nightmare.

“My first year I came in and it was off COVID, so I didn’t play football for a whole year,” Kramdi explained on Wednesday, the first full days of practice leading up to this weekend’s game in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats. “Then I came in for camp and after a couple days my brother passed away, so I flew back home, came back in and soon as I came back in, two weeks after, I pulled my hamstring and was off for six weeks.

“My first year was really hard on me – mentally, physically, spiritually I was going through a lot. Depression hit. I told myself in the offseason going into my second year that I really wanted to gain the trust of the players, gain the respect of the players and the DB (defensive back) room and gain the trust of the coaches. My second year I did a good job. I really embraced special teams. I will never not play special teams because it’s a big part of who I am. So, my second year I embraced that role and did all I could to help us on special teams because that was my job.”

His evolution has continued in 2023, so much so that the Blue Bombers now start eight Canadians, Kramdi amongs them, giving the club that much more roster flexibility. His presence in the defence isn’t based on his nationality, either. He’s there because he’s earned it.

“To be able to communicate and make quick decisions, that’s what makes Redha special,” said Blue Bombers defensive backs coach Jordan Younger. “He handles the challenges that come with the Dime position in our defence and a lot of those things are just natural and easy for him – tracking the motion, understanding the formation checks, he’s an excellent communicator and he’s physical.

“He’s another guy that punches above his weight in our defence. Smaller frame, but he’s willing to get down there in the box and mix it up with the bigger guys because that doesn’t intimidate him at all. He can also step out in space and do a lot of things we do in coverage.

“It’s his versatility, his toughness and – most importantly – his football IQ and his ability to articulate what’s going on pre and post snap.”

Kramdi’s name was called out in the 2021 draft by the Blue Bombers because GM Kyle Walters called his special teams tape from his days at the Université de Montreal as the best in that year’s class. That year’s draft combine was limited due to COVID, with Kramdi conduction his interview with the team via a Zoom call. Asked during that session what position he played after being lining up at corner, halfback, and safety with the Carabins, Kramdi offered this: “I play defence.”

Now, don’t mistake that response in any way as cockiness, for that’s the last term that would be used to describe him. Born in Montreal to Algerian immigrants, Kramdi gets his work ethic from his mother, Fatimia Boussebt, and his father, Madani Kramdi, both of whom worked tirelessly to help their three children get the best they could provide.

“My parents, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” said Kramdi on Wednesday. “They worked hard, two-three jobs, to make it happen for me and my sister and my brother for us not to have to worry about anything. I had a chance to go to school and play football and they took care of everything. It was hard for them, so I’m happy that I’m getting paid to play football that I have a chance to give back to my parents and they’re really proud. They’re the main reason I’m here.

“My mom and dad watch every game. They’re big fans of Zach (Collaros) and (Nic) Demski. They were actually mad when Zach got hit (the head butt in the Labour Day Classic). They were mad. My mom was mad. They’ve learned a little bit of football. My mom calls before every game, before we walk in for warm-up – she doesn’t still really understand football, but she knows it’s a physical game and she’s a mom so it’s ‘Watch out for your head. Don’t get injured.’ My dad follows everything, and he understands everything now and understands that I have a bigger role now than I had in past years. He’s always saying, ‘Stay humble. Play fast.’ He’s always good with his words and after the game telling me to be proud of the way I played.”

Kramdi has certainly taken to heart those words – along with the ’10 toes down’ motto spit out by so many in the locker room – to stay humble. That was evident during his chat on Wednesday, when he went out of his way to thank everyone in the defensive huddle… and beyond.

“I always try to stay grounded so that I don’t think too much of myself,” he said. “I think I have a lot to learn and a lot to correct every week. I still make mistakes that I shouldn’t make, so I’m still trying to grow.

“After the game Brandon Alexander texted me that I had a good game and I answered it that I left a lot of plays on the field after watching the tape. I’m still learning, I’m still growing. He’s been a great leader for the room. Deatrick Nichols has been great to me; Alden Darby has been amazing with me. I’m still learning and I’m trying to learn from every single person that I can.”

Later, this quote from Kramdi that exemplifies his approach and his perspective:

“We humans, we have up and down days,” he said. “It’s a long season. But every morning… my brother passed away (snaps fingers) and it wasn’t expected. So, thinking about that always helped me to go onto the field with a grateful heart knowing that everything can be taken away at any time.”

More on the Blue Bombers return to work in this week’s NEED TO KNOW

MORE, MORE, MORE: The Blue Bombers scored touchdowns on all six possessions in the first half of last weekend’s 51-6 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl and on nine of their 10 possessions overall before punting inside the final minute.

And yet there were some of the main principles involved on Wednesday wanting to push for more while finding more consistency. FYI: Winnipeg’s average of 31.4 points per game leads the CFL.

“As athletes and coaches you’re just so focussed on the task at hand, the play at hand, that you hope it looks like that more often when you can execute like we did in being able to be balanced and mix things up, stay on the field and get consistent first downs and have an opportunity to get the ball in the end zone,” said offensive coordinator Buck Pierce. “Dealing with our offence we talk about being able to do that more frequently. It’s just part of the evolution of being able to see all the hard work and what guys are capable of doing. That’s the exciting part about it.

“Every game is going to be different,” added Pierce. “To be honest with you, the guys in the room and us as coaches, our belief is that’s what it should look like. So, when you’re able to put together a solid game like we did, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It should be, ‘How can we do this more frequently?’ You look at yourselves and the players look at themselves as well and say, ‘Why doesn’t it look like this more often?’

“The biggest thing out of it is when we execute, when we’re dialled in, when we’re a focussed group, we’re a pretty good offence.”

The Blue Bombers cranked out 603 yards of net offence in the win, as Zach Collaros threw for 319 yards and five touchdowns. He said the team’s first meeting since the victory was jovial, but also warned that it was a year ago in Hamilton that the Blue Bombers were thrashed by the Tiger-Cats.

“It’s always better to watch after a win, clearly,” said Collaros. “Obviously if you’re making plays guys are a little more jovial in there. But you’ve still got to make your critiques and fixing your mistakes and I thought we did a good job of not glossing over plays that might have worked out but we weren’t on the same page in some respect.

“… We went out there (Hamilton) last year and it didn’t go our way. It was not a good experience for us. We’re focussed on the task at hand and they’re a really good football team and we’ve got to execute at a high level.”

OUCH REPORT: Today’s injury report — knock on wood – is still thin.

QUOTABLE: Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, when asked by Taylor Allen of The Free Press how long he allows himself to enjoy a win like the Banjo Bowl:

“I don’t know that we’re trying to consciously enjoy it other than the fact that you probably, as a coach, recognize that you slept a little better. That you were able to fall asleep and wake up without rolling through all these negative plays in your head.

“It was a clean game, very well executed, so there’s not a lot to just keep rolling through… there’s still some, but I think guys end up with a little more sleep. The game ends earlier, you get to bed earlier, it’s a clean game, so you go to bed with a cleaner conscience maybe.”