July 10, 2024

48-Hour Primer | CAL at WPG

Blue Bombers 'dime' back Redha Kramdi - photos by Cameron Bartlett

It was presented as a compliment, even though it’s not usually a description associated with high praise.

Still, when the words come from the mouth of Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea — a Canadian Football League Hall of Famer and one of the three-down game’s toughest-ever hombres — it’s the kind of verbal pat on the back that can leave a player’s soul singing.

So, here’s the compliment O’Shea offered earlier this week of Blue Bombers ‘dime’ back Redha Kramdi:

“I love the way Redha plays football, his passion for the game. And he’s got that ability to be a prick, and that’s a good thing on the football field.”

Asked today to expand a bit further on the ‘prick’ component, O’Shea added this: “It’s a term of endearment from me. When that gets that bestowed upon him, that’s very positive. It’s just that edge — not the penalty — just the edge, the desire to win your one-on-one and beat your opponent all the time and no quarter. You just want to beat them.”

Yes, let’s be clear here before we go any further, the praise had nothing to do with the penalty O’Shea referred to — Kramdi’s poor decision to level former teammate Dru Brown as the Ottawa RedBlacks quarterback was sliding in last week’s game and a shot that caused the quarterback to exit the game and be in concussion protocol this week.

It was a bad play and Kramdi, who did his mea culpa afterwards and apologized to Brown for the hit, and also got his backside chewed out by O’Shea during the game. He might face further discipline from the Canadian Football League before this week is done.

So, this isn’t a story meant to riff on that moment. Instead, let’s pull back for a 10,000-foot view of Kramdi’s evolution since arrival in Winnipeg in 2021 as the club’s second-round pick, 16th overall, in that year’s CFL Draft because it’s worth revisiting.

Rewind to 2021 and Kramdi’s first camp with the club. That spring he received a call that his older brother Sami, his biggest fan, had passed away suddenly in his sleep at just 28 years of age.

It was crushing news and, compounded with a hamstring injury, made the 2021 calendar year arguably the most-challenging of Kramdi’s young life. A year later he made his first pro start, upping that total to 11 starts last year. And now he is a fixture in the Blue Bombers defence who’s earned a place as a respected voice.

All of this, in some part, has combined to fuel how Kramdi plays — with that edge, that competitive fire.

“It’s how I’ve been my whole life,” Kramdi said with a shrug of the shoulders. “I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up but I was always around my older brother — may he rest in peace — and his friends. I was, by far, the youngest, and so I learned that you can’t back down. You’ve always got to get up and keep fighting.

“And so when I hear something like (O’Shea’s compliment)… I look up to a lot of people and he’s one of them. I’m proud to play for someone like him and the career he had, the person he is, the coach he is. I’m trying to honour my coach and my teammates.”

That’s a term Kramdi threw around a ton in our chat today — honour — and it’s about honouring his teammates, his coach, the fans, his late brother and his family. The 27-year-old Montreal product has a lot of skills and strengths, with one of them being a deep appreciation for those who helped get him on this path and keep him there.

And it’s something he takes with him to the field every day.

“I’m playing for so many people, that’s how I see it,” he said. “For example, my uncle just sent me a picture because he came here from Algeria for my sister’s wedding and he’s representing Winnipeg Blue Bombers gear in Algeria in Africa. That’s who I play for. I’ve got a lot of reasons to play, the main one is to honour the people in the organization because they’re the ones who believed in me, who drafted me and who have put me in position to make plays.

“We all play for different reasons and another one for me is for my brother and him not having a chance to see me play as a professional. That always brings tears to me before every kickoff. Every game.

“I’m playing with teammates, but I call them friends,” he continued. “They’re people who would put their bodies on the line for us to get a win. I’m surrounded by so many great players, also so many who have been doing it for so long like Biggie (Adam Bighill), Jake Thomas, Willie (Jefferson), it makes it easy for me to fit in and do my job. And now this year it feels like I’m trusted a bit and my words mean a bit more. My voice means something because of that trust. That’s what makes it special.”

Kramdi said that his first season — the year he lost his brother and was injured — was both a mental and physical challenge. Now years removed from that, he calls it a ‘foundation year’, a season in which he soaked up every word from the likes of Brandon Alexander, Nick Taylor, Alden Darby, Jr. and Deatrick Nichols.

“I could take the next five minutes here to list off all the people who helped me and who I’d want to thank for helping me to be in the position I am now. They know who they are,” he said. “It’s funny… if you look back to the first interview I had, you asked me what position I played and I said, ‘defence.’ I’m proud of that. Sometimes I wake up and I’m so happy I have to pinch myself because of the position I’m in today. I’ve come a long way.

“You know, in the real world if you have a normal job you wake up, you eat breakfast, you go to your job, you go home, maybe you have a drink or you go the gym… whatever your routine is,” he added. “But in football, it’s almost like you’re fighting every day, every play. That’s something – in a weird way, I guess – that I really enjoy. I get to test myself every day and see what other people are about on the field.

“I was talking to Evan (Holm) about this — I like to play a certain way. I’m going to get some people and sometimes I’m going to get got. That’s part of football and that’s what I love. I love to compete. I love to scrap. I love to fight. I just love it. It’s who I am.”

FYI: Wednesday’s Blue Bombers practice was closed to the media. Here is today’s injury report:

ICYMI: Willie Jefferson joined us this week for the latest edition of ‘The Huddle’ our live show on the Blue Bombers YouTube page every Tuesday at 3 p.m. Willie brought some gems, as he always does, and to watch the episode, click below: