January 20, 2024

“It’s a special place. We’ve had some tough losses, dude, but we’re so resilient.”

Drew Wolitarsky scribbled his signature onto a new two-year contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers earlier this week and the significance of that moment runs deep because of his deep appreciation for this town and his team.

One of the Blue Bombers steadiest receivers – he set career highs in 2023 in receptions (47), receiving yards (668) and touchdowns (six) – Wolitarsky is also one of the most influential voices in the locker room.

Among other attributes, he’s a deep thinker, a musician, head of the team’s book club, and a caring  teammate. All those things make him as valuable to the club as what he does between the stripes on game day.

“I’m so glad to be back, dude,” said Wolitarsky from Melbourne, Australia, where he is vacationing. “It’s eight years in Winnipeg. Think about that. I’m only 28. The first 10 years of your life, you don’t even remember anything, so I’ve been there half of my conscious adult life, bro. I had three years of my ‘adult life’ outside of Winnipeg and then the last eight years there.”

Now, those that know Wolitarsky surely know the one paragraph of quotes above is simply a tease to what is really rolling around in his head. Asked to expand on his days in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers after being selected in the CFL’s Supplemental Draft Wolitarsky offered up this to explain how a guy – check that, a dude– from Santa Clarita, California has formed such a bond with a Canadian prairie town…

“My girl is from Southern Cal and she calls Winnipeg our home,” he began. “It’s where we have our routine, our home, our space. It’s a place that has really rooted us and made us closer as a family. It’s a special place in our hearts. It will be hard to leave when the time comes and that’s why every time I sign a contract there’s this sense of both relief and joy. We love to travel and being vagabonds, but that can get so tiring. In Winnipeg we have our community and there’s so much structure. I get why people don’t want to leave because it comes from knowing when you go out to your coffee shop, they’re going to know your name.

“We went into a coffee shop here in Melbourne yesterday and I thought I’m never going to see this owner again. You’re in and out. There can be charms to big cities, but there can also be an emptiness. I’m an empathic person. I like to connect, and community is important to me.

“Winnipeg is such a great city for that – it’s big enough to feel big, but small enough to have you connected. In this day and age of disconnectedness I understand now the allure of that from being in Winnipeg.”

Told then he should be the new front man for Tourism Winnipeg after a testimonial like that, Wolitarsky laughed and added.

“Hell yeah, bro.”

Wolitarsky’s signing means the Blue Bombers now have 25 players inching toward the free-agent market next month. He said contract negotiations with Assistant GM Ted Goveia began informally with text conversations about guitar stuff – both are avid players – before the subject turned to salary.

“Genuinely, I had no interest in going anywhere else and I think everyone knew that,” Wolitarsky said.  “I’m not here to let my ego flex and say, ‘I want this money’ or ‘I’m worth this.’ At the end of the day, man, I have so much community there and you can’t put a price on that. Yeah, if they weren’t going to pay me at all I wouldn’t do it, but I’m not looking for a big payout because of where I’m at, the system I’m in and the role I have.

“Obviously everyone would love the ball more, but this has been a team with the best receivers for the past few years, so being able to contribute the way I have and be that steady force for the team is really an awesome role to have.

“It’s a special place. We’ve had some tough losses, dude, but we’re so resilient. We lost to Toronto in the Cup and then came back and made it there again. And that last loss, it’s really hard on the heart. But we’ll bounce back.”

Worth noting: there’s more going on in Australia than just Wolitarsky’s satisfying his deep desire to see and learn about the rest of the world: on February 11 he and his fiancée Savanna are getting married in Dunsborough — a small town on the country’s west coast.

“And you know who is now coming out, bro? And you won’t believe this s—t… I just got a text confirmation this morning that Chris Streveler is coming down to be my best man,” Wolitarsky said with absolute joy in his voice. “My parents are the only ones coming from my family – my siblings aren’t coming – and so now I have a really close friend who will be there, and it just so happens to be Strev, so that’s really cool.”