Five years is a long time to be away from any sport. But world champion bobsledder Giulio Zardo doesn't view his half-decade hiatus from football as an impediment to his dream of playing for the Edmonton Eskimos.
"I've been doing the same football drills I was doing before. It's like riding a bike," offered Zardo, who served as Pierre Lueders's brakeman before being suspended following allegations of a scuffle with the bob team's head coach in December.
"It seems pretty natural. But we'll see what it's like once I get on the field. I haven't played in five years but it's not like I stopped training. It's just a matter of learning the system and doing whatever is required of me."
Zardo and roughly 30 other Edmonton Eskimos hopefuls got a once-over from the team's medical staff late yesterday.
That same group is slated to hit the field at Concordia University College this morning for the Esks' rookie camp, which serves as a preamble for the team's main camp, which opens Sunday.
The Esks have players stacked up like cordwood at each position this year. According to rookie head coach Danny Maciocia, there's no free ride and none of the veterans are guaranteed jobs.
"The league allows you to bring in 68 on the current roster plus the non-counters, so that's what we're going to do," Maciocia said.
Zardo played linebacker for his hometown St. Leonard Cougars before turning to bobsledding in 2001.
Although he possesses above-average speed, Zardo's best shot at making the Esks is as a special teamer.
"If I play special teams, by all means. That's fine with me," said the six-foot-two, 246-pounder.
"I'm really fast and I'm well sized. Plus, when it's time to get aggressive, I can get in there with the best of them."
Being punted from the bobsled team cost Zardo about $20,000.
If he cracks the Green and Gold's starting lineup, he'll earn the CFL minimum of $35,000 a season. "The only way for me to make any money was to win everything," offered Zardo. "(Losing $20,000) was a pretty hard hit to the wallet."
The Calgary Stampeders were the first CFL club to express an interest in Zardo. However, the Esks beat their provincial rivals to the punch and slapped Zardo on their negotiation list.
Growing up in east-end Montreal, Zardo found a kindred spirit in Maciocia, who also grew up there.
Now that he's walked away from bobsledding, Zardo is looking forward to getting his football career back on track. "I just need to get back into an environment where I'm going to have fun."
"I had a lot of success in what I was doing ... I was a world champion and had medal potential at the Olympics but I just wasn't enjoying my life.
NEEDED A CHANGE
"Have you ever gone to a job and dreaded going there? Honestly, that's what it felt like. I just needed a change because mentally I was getting worn out.
"Plus with all the politics this year a whole bunch of factors were pushing me towards football. Just getting a chance to play on this team makes me feel a hell of a lot better."
HENDRICKS RELEASED: Maciocia had hoped to open camp with five quarterbacks. Barring a last-minute signing, that won't happen in the wake of Bart Hendricks's release.
Ricky Ray's signing earlier this month left the Esks with a wealth of talent at the quarterback position heading into camp. With Ray, Jason Maas, Khari Jones and Jason Johnson all under contract, Hendricks was deemed expendable.
Hendricks saw limited playing time in his almost three-year stint here. The 26-year-old carried the clipboard his first two campaigns with the team and was tabbed as Maas's backup last season.