Joe Montford arrived at training camp last month with a mountain of baggage. The good news, as far as the Edmonton Eskimos are concerned, is all of it was destined for his family's home.
A three-time winner of the CFL most outstanding defensive player award and league sack leader four years running, Montford figured he'd be playing out the option year of his contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But all that changed when Esks offensive lineman Dan Comiskey requested a trade in April. The one-for-one deal saw Comiskey headed to Hamilton and Montford on his way to Western Canada.
Arguably the biggest non-free agent acquisition by the Green and Gold in recent memory, the future Hall of Famer is drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff.
"I think he makes us a complete football (team)," said Esks defensive line coach Dennis Winston.
"With his knowledge of the game and different personnel that he's played against, he can help the other guys get their jobs done.
"We were glad to get him and he's going to be a great contributor to our football team."
Although he had some valid concerns, Montford never gave not reporting a second thought.
"The biggest thing coming out here was getting my family settled," said the 34-year-old defensive end, who with 124 sacks is two shy of moving into a tie for No. 6 on the CFL's all-time career list.
"Not knowing how we were going to settle in, being in a different city and everybody's role changing ... Fortunately, when we got here we were able to get a place to stay."
Setting up housekeeping in Hamilton was a snap for Montford, who makes his off-season home in Atlanta. A 15-hour drive made relocation manageable. Moving his pregnant wife, Temikia, and three-year-old daughter, Maysan, across the continent was more daunting, hence all the baggage and mild trepidation.
"We are having our child in Canada and we had a doctor when we were in Hamilton that my wife was comfortable with," explained the six-foot-one, 235-pound end who is about to embark on his 11th CFL season. "Everything was going smooth. The not knowing who was going to deliver your baby, which is the most important thing, was kind of scary at some points.
Confidence in God
"We had every confidence in God that it would work out. One of the team doctors is actually seeing my wife and everything is working out great.
"As the man of the house, it's your job to make sure that your family is comfortable. That was the biggest thing.''
With the exception of a one-year stint in Toronto, Montford's job has always been used to hunt opposing quarterbacks. However, under the free-form defensive scheme designed by Gary Etcheverry, Montford lacked a defined role and was like a fish out of water.
There's no confusion regarding Montford's role with the Esks. He'll still be chasing down quarterbacks. The only difference is the five-time Easter Division all-star will be doing it from one spot on the field.
That, however, could be subject to change.
"We want to put him in the best position, where he can make plays," said Winston.
"That's the one thing we want to do. We might flip-flop him, you never know. We're not going to let him be in one place where people can lock down on him."
Book-ending with Tim Cheatwood last season, Montford racked up 13 sacks -- three of which came against the Green and Gold in a game last October. In addition to being a perennial all-star and sack master, the TiCats once built an entire marketing campaign around the North Carolina-born defender. So walking into the Eskimos' locker-room was a breath of fresh air.
"Every play, every series, every game I had to be the man in Hamilton. Even when we brought in other players it was still, 'No. 53 you need to have 14-plus sacks or you're not doing your job.'
"I see me doing the same thing but there's so much veteranship back there with Malcolm (Frank) and (Donny) Brady and (A.J.) Gass, the names go on and on. A lot of times when you look at other teams you look and go, 'Who's back there?' Now, every person back there was an all-star at one point."