Esks' Bertrand feels good as ever

As a fullback with the Eskimos, Mathieu Bertrand rarely runs a play where he doesn't hit someone,...

As a fullback with the Eskimos, Mathieu Bertrand rarely runs a play where he doesn't hit someone, or get hit. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency file photo)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:37 AM ET

EDMONTON - Over the past eight years, Mathieu Bertrand has taken a beating in the Edmonton Eskimos backfield.

As the team’s starting fullback, the Chambly, Que., native rarely goes through a play without hitting or being hit by somebody.

Even for someone who is six-foot-three, 216 pounds, all that contact takes a toll.

However, heading into this season, Bertrand feels as good as ever.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve been getting a good rhythm these last two weeks. I’m 33, but I feel like I’m 25, so it’s great.

“At 33, you have to be on top of your game, so you have to take care of the little details. I worked hard in the off-season. I think I’m at the perfect weight right now, I feel really good on the field, so I think it’ll be a good season.”

A converted quarterback, Bertrand is one of the few constants on essentially a revamped football club.

He likes the attitude the new coaching staff has brought, and is confident things will turn around for the club after a disappointing 2010 season.

“I see the coaching staff is hungry, they want to change a lot of things from last year,” Bertrand said. “They’re energetic and they’re just great coaches. They’ve brought in a lot of young players that want to win badly. It’s been great so far, hopefully we’ll have a good game on Friday and we’ll start the season off well.”

As a veteran leader, Bertrand is doing his best to help some of the younger players navigate through the perils of training camp.

Wednesday was essentially the last day of camp. The team will have a light walkthrough on Thursday before suiting up for their final exhibition game Friday, at home, against the Calgary Stampeders.

“Our training camp was pretty intense, but the coaches have been smart about not burning us out,” Bertrand said. “When they felt we were tired and perhaps not as mentally or physically strong, they would give us a night off without meetings. They’ve been smart, so we really appreciate that a lot.”

The running game is expected to be a big part of the Eskimos offence this season. The club has a number of talented running backs, capable of earning big yards on the ground.

Bertrand’s job is to open holes for those running backs as the team’s lead blocker.

“Matty is special, he’s one of those guys that if you’re running the ball and you didn’t run behind him, your chances are very slim,” said running back Arkee Whitlock. “He’s a guy that always makes you look good. He’s a behind the scenes guy, who doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he’s very important to our football team.

“He does everything right, he’s been around for a long time, he’s a veteran guy, who is a smart, savvy football player. He’s a great teammate on and off the field. As a running back group, he’s helped us grow and be more confident.”

Bertrand’s progression into one of the best fullbacks in the league has been steady.

A standout quarterback at Laval University, where he led the Rouge et Or to a pair of Vanier Cup championships, Bertrand was turned into a fullback by the Eskimos after signing as a free agent in 2004.

He started 16 games for the team last season.

“It’s a great position to play,” Bertrand said. “You have to be able to run block, you have to be able to pass block and you have to be able to catch the ball, as well as run with the ball. It’s a lot of things you have to practice, but I enjoy it. I was a quarterback for all those years and now all the practices are different and I’m learning new stuff with the new coaches every year, I really enjoy it.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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