July 8, 2024

Need to Know | Week 6

Lucky Whitehead was back with the Blue Bombers for the first time since 2019 on Monday -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Lucky Whitehead has officially made his triumphant return to Winnipeg and the Blue Bombers and brings with him the exact same skillset as when he first arrived in Manitoba in 2019 before venturing west to the B.C. Lions.
That toolbox includes his blazing speed, experience and versatility as a receiver, plus his threat as a returner.
And now something new, which came to light after his first practice with the club on Monday when asked if he was worried his career might be done at age 32 when his phone didn’t ring in free agency and only recently when the Blue Bombers came calling…
“I was staying ready. I was at peace with whatever happened. I’ve played some great football,” he said. “Like I said, I was a peace, I became a gardener.”
Wait, a…. gardener?!
Turns out Whitehead started journalling and gardening while waiting for his next opportunity in the game. A friend got him into it and, in typical Whitehead fashion, he was in with both feet.
“When I do things, I go into 100 per cent,” he said with a grin. “So, I just started ordering a whole bunch of stuff, and mostly vegetables. I got a whole bunch of things that I don’t eat, but I’m so excited when I start seeing progress. I got cauliflower. I had a watermelon. Cucumbers. Greens. Tomatoes. Peppers.
“Again, I don’t eat any of those. I’m not a big vegetables guy, but it was exciting just to see the growth in all my plants. One time, I went to sleep and didn’t have nothing and when I woke up I had something. I wanted to just stay here and stare at these plants. It was very peaceful for me. It was very healing. I was just kind of doing something completely different from me. I would do it again, but it’s probably going to get cold here soon.
“There’s a little rabbit already biting on my cauliflower. His name’s Larry. So he’s gonna run around eating my cauliflower.”

Lucky Whitehead

There was a lot of Whitehead flashing his trademark smile during his give and take with the media after practice and a genuine appreciation for a return to the place where his CFL career began after NFL stints with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.
“It felt amazing (to get the call from the Blue Bombers),” said Whitehead, who will wear #13, the same number he wore in his rookie year with the Cowboys. “I was telling a couple of the guys, if I was to go anywhere, I’m glad it was here. I’m familiar with the city, the fans, the organization. So, I was definitely ecstatic about the opportunity.
“My first year here (2019) we won a championship. So, just the memories, the excitement that I had here when I was playing, the parade – it was epic stuff. I will say I still have close friends on the team.”
Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was non-committal as to when Whitehead might get into the lineup, but it sounds like this Friday against Calgary would be considered a long shot right now.
“Well, he knows how we like things done,” said O’Shea of Whitehead. “He certainly is a very positive guy. He’s, dare I say, joyful, on a daily basis. He’s good to have in the room. Always has energy and those are the non-football things he brings. When he gets out onto the field, he can be electric. Certainly, him having so many snaps in the CFL is a little different than some of our young guys.
“We still have to figure out where it all fits. His desire to come here and take the roll that he was given, that’s a good start.”
Whitehead said some of the playbook ‘feels like Spanish’ right now, but he’s hopeful to gobble it up ASAP. In the meantime, his experience can help a receiving corps minus Dalton Schoen and Kenny Lawler and in last week’s win over Ottawa featured three CFL rookies in Pokey Wilson, Josh Johnson and Kevens Clercius.
“If I was up to me I’d try to play this week,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m going to learn it as fast as possible now that I know where I will be playing. When the time comes I’m going to be ready.
“… It’s a great opportunity. Obviously, for myself, being a veteran now, it’s to be able to come in with my knowledge and my game skills. I want to be able to help out the young guys, too. The game’s a little different (than the U.S.) and everything, right? It comes at you fast and I want to be able to help them, kind of slow down the game for them. When it’s my time and I’m in there, I’m going to do my thing. I just can’t express enough how excited I am to be back playing football.”
Now 32, but coming off three productive seasons in B.C. in which he had 296 receptions for 2,671 yards and 10 TDs, Whitehead was asked how much he has left in the tank. He paused for a moment, smiled, then said:

“I’m like a diesel. I’ve got a full tank. I’ve got a lot. I feel good, I had all this rest. My body feels great. I feel great, obviously. It’s going to be a little different after games. So I’ve got to see how I’m feeling. But I feel great and can’t wait to get rolling.”

Other notes and quotes from the first day of the practice week for the Blue Bombers…

QB1 RETURNS: Zach Collaros was back at his post on Monday after missing last week’s win over Ottawa due to injury. The Blue Bombers starting quarterback took a helmet to the chest by Stampeder defensive tackle Josiah Coatney and was not able to suit up against the RedBlacks, giving way to Chris Streveler.

“I felt it was close (to playing last week),” he said. “Again, we just want to be smart about injuries, especially early on in the season. I know we’re not exactly where we want to be, but you don’t want things to compound. Like I said, our organization really cares about us as players and really relied on my input as well as the communicating with the staff and doctors. We made the right decision, I thought it was the right decision and we won last week. I thought we played a really good game, really physical and it’s important to try and carry the momentum from that game into practice this week.”

Collaros said the league contacted O’Shea after the game to say the hit should have been penalized. Asked later about that for confirmation, O’Shea only said: “I talk to the league every week. I’m not going to get into it.”

If there is a silver lining to missing a game, the Blue Bombers came out of the week with a win and the experience did give Collaros a different perspective.

“I tried to stay in the best shape I could,” he said. “I worked out every day and get as much cardio in as possible, tried to help Chris (Streveler) out as much as I could, especially leading up to it. He’s a pro, he knows what he’s doing, but any input we can give to each other is always welcome.

“I thought being on the sideline was a nice way to view it and being able to spend more time, whether it was with the IPad or making suggestions in real time when you’re not kind of in the thick of it… just trying to help anyway I can was a way that I haven’t really done it in a long time, so I thought it was interesting. But I’d much rather be out there.”

‘THORAX’?: Collaros was officially listed on the injury report as having a ‘thorax’ issue.

“I was waiting for you guys to ask what it was, and I was going to say it was a thorax and I’m not quite sure what that was,” he said with a grin. “I met somebody and she works in the health care system, and she was like, ‘I think I’m the only person who knows what a thorax is.’ I thought it was great. I thought it was a Dr. Seuss book or something. I think I read something like that to my kids.”

FYI: Collaros and Streveler were at an autograph signing session on the weekend. Said Collaros of Streveler: “I saw him sign somebody’s arm yesterday and then they went and got it tattooed on them.

“It was exciting. He certainly brings an energy to our team, to our offence; a physicality that, as times, is needed. We pride ourselves on physicality and Brady does a great job of that, Johnny, as well as our receivers and obviously our O-line. But Chris is Chris. You could tell the joy he has from playing the game and guys feed off that for sure.”

LUCKY X2: The return of Lucky Whitehead now means there are two Luckys on the Blue Bombers roster, including Global linebacker/end Lucky Ogbevoen, who was getting a lot of work with the starters on Monday.

Whitehead on whether he had ever been on a team with another ‘Lucky’:

“We were just talking. That’s crazy. And he keeps coming up to me telling me, ‘Is your real name Lucky?’ I’m like, ‘Is yours?’ And we’re going back and forth, and I told him, ‘I’m gonna just call you L-2.’ And he was like, ‘Why am I L-2?’ I was like, ‘Cause I’m 32.’ So I’m L-1. That’s gonna be L-2. But that’s funny.

“Actually during a play, Coach was like, ‘Lucky,’ and I’m staring him down and he was like, ‘No, not you.’ And that’s a first for me. Yeah, that’s funny.”