March 5, 2018

Renewed Motivation | Ekakitie Ready for Year Two

Faith Ekakitie (56) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Faith Ekakitie slips off his Iowa leather jacket, pulls off his toque, and drops into a chair in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football operations department.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the big defensive tackle – selected first overall by the Bombers less than a year ago – smiles easily and often. His mood undoubtedly speaks of his comfort level – he and his wife Mikaela have made Winnipeg their year-round home and are absolutely loving it.

“I did tell her it was cold,” Ekakitie explained with a grin. “But it was her idea. After the season, I asked her ‘What do you want to do?’ And she said, ‘What do you mean?’

“We were both college athletes (Mikaela, who hails from Wisconsin, played volleyball at Iowa) and were told for like four years where we had to be and when we had to be there. And so all of a sudden, we didn’t have any obligations. We could have gone anywhere in the world and lived for six months but she said she wanted to stay here. She loves Winnipeg. And I love it, too.”

Mikaela has just found employment locally after landing her work permit and is also coaching volleyball. And Ekakitie, when he isn’t speaking at schools on behalf of the club, has been in the gym vowing to build on his rookie season in the Canadian Football League.

Ekakitie suited up for 14 games last year as a Bomber, seeing time as a rotational tackle along the defensive line. But his impact, admittedly, was limited as he finished the year with five tackles.

“It was a huge learning experience,” said Ekakitie. “I remember being asked a year ago what my goals were and they were to come in and contribute to the team. Looking back, I feel like I didn’t give myself the chance to compete for as much playing time as I would have liked.

“Part of that was circumstance, but a lot of it is just on me. Coming into camp, to put it bluntly, I was too fat and out of shape.”

Ekakitie played at around 290 pounds in his final year with the Hawkeyes, and in preparation for Iowa’s Pro Day in front of National Football League scouts, it was recommended he bulk up by adding weight. He was at 304 for the Pro Day and then about 307 when he arrived at Bombers rookie camp last May. Couple that with the unknown that had suddenly come into his life – moving to a new city, adjusting to the three-down game, getting his wife settled here and the stress of being the first-overall pick – and Ekakitie admittedly occasionally struggled with the adjustment from college to professional athlete.

To be clear, those aren’t meant as excuses, but the simple reality of what he went through a year ago.

Now his focus has not only changed, but has become more intense. He’s settled now, Mikaela is working and Ekakitie has found the drive that took him from a project player at Iowa, through a redshirt season, then an injury-plagued year before becoming a starter halfway through his senior season.

Yes, some athletes find success instantly. Others, like Ekakitie, must approach the grind like a marathon.

“Going through what I did at Iowa taught me the value of patience and perseverance,” he explained. “Bringing all that back to this… I wasn’t where I wanted to be at the beginning of my career at Iowa and I’m not where I want to be at the beginning of my career as a professional. But I did get where I wanted to be at Iowa and I feel like the biggest thing is having faith in myself. It may not happen when I want it to happen, but at some point it will happen if I stick to it.

“When I was in high school all I wanted to do was chase that dream of playing D-1 ball. I wanted to get back to that same drive, that same hunger and motivation that I had back then. I have it again.”

Ekakitie has been a regular at the gym, playing pick-up basketball, taking in cycling classes and working on his speed. Interestingly, it was a chance meeting with a Bomber legend that helped him understand how he had to attack all this.

“I met Doug Brown last year at Justin Medlock’s Variety Club Dinner,” said Ekakitie. “He walked in, this huge guy, and I said, ‘Who’s that?’ I was told it was Doug Brown and that he was a hall of famer. So I said, ‘I’ve got to talk to this guy.’

“We didn’t talk just about football. I was picking his brain. I realize we’re not the same athletes… they always tell you to watch film of the guys who do it the best, but he’s 6-8 and has arms out to here. I’m not going to play like him. But he did help by telling me what he did in each offseason to get ready. I still see him at the gym once in a while.

“What surprised me is the guys who played for six, seven, eight years up here,” Ekakitie.

“There’s Doug and I also met Obby (Khan) the other day and he played for eight years. That almost blows my mind. You hear about the NFL – ‘Not For Long’ league and then there’s guys like Doug and Obby. That’s encouraging to me. Knock on wood, I’d like to get to play that long.”