Eppele still learning CFL game

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:01 AM ET

Joe Eppele weighs in at more than 300 pounds of lean muscle, stretched taut over an expanse that runs so high mere mortals need an escalator to look him in the eye.

How big is he? Let’s just say that since leaving home in Squamish, B.C., to play at Washington State, there have been a lot fewer Bigfoot sightings.

“Just because you’re the first-round pick doesn’t mean you will start right away. We believe he’ll be a long-term starter in this league,” Toronto head coach Jim Barker said Wednesday. “But right now, he’s got a lot to learn about the Canadian game.”

Eppele has that calm, easy-going manner coupled with the determination of a bulldog on a bone that seems synonymous with so many offensive lineman.

Some day he could be a household name around here. But, right now, he’s just a household name around the Gagne-Marcoux family sofa. The Argos’ first-round pick didn’t dress for the season opener, is buried on the depth chart and — injuries aside — might have to get used to being a paper-Argonaut for a bit.

When Barker left him in Toronto last week while the team flew to Calgary to play the Stampeders, it marked the first time since his freshman year in Washington that Eppele hadn’t at least been on a the sideline.

“It’s been a huge adjustment. Even if you’re at the game but not playing at least you still feel part of the team. But to be at home on at he couch, it ate me up,” Eppele said.

He watched the Argos lose to the Stamps with fellow lineman Cedric Gagne Marcoux’s mother.

“People called me about going out to watch the game but I didn’t even feel like doing that. I just hung out on the couch. I guess I was sulking a bit,” Eppele said. “I was mad. I can’t explain the rage I felt sitting on that couch having to watch the game,” he added.

Not that finding himself in this position was a total surprise. It is rare indeed for a college player to step into a starting job on an offensive line, especially an experienced one like the Argos.

“You always come in expecting to win a starting job but I also respect that these guys have played a lot more years and have a lot more knowledge about the sport than I do,” he said.

Eppele is the antithesis of the dumb jock, completing a psychology major and a business minor with a 3.2 grade-point average. A three-year, second-team, all-Academic athlete, the National Football Foundation named him a 2010 Hampshire Honor Society member in the College Hall of Fame.

He could have gone back to Washington for another year but ever since Paul Wulff took over as head coach two seasons ago, Eppele felt marginalized.

“They showed interest in rebuilding the program with their guys and I could see my time decreasing and decreasing. I could see myself getting pushed back and it was a frustrating situation for me,” Eppele said. “When this opportunity opened and I had my degree there seemed no reason for me to stay.”

When you’re an all-Academic it’s not hard to read the writing on the wall.

There is also a bit of a misconception about being an offensive lineman.

Size and strength are important but in actual fact it is just as much about technique and balance. It’s a bit like trying to dance like a ballerina while pushing a bus disguised as defensive linemen.

“There are so many little things for an offensive lineman to learn that take time,” Barker said. “It’s a special game in Canada. In the U.S., the defensive guy is right on you. In Canada, the guy is a yard off the ball and there’s a lot more space to move around. They can isolate you by pulling the tackle out, pulling the centre over and now you have all this space.”

“He’s learning to play in space and that’s the hardest thing for an offensive lineman to do because they don’t always have the greatest speed and they have to block guys who are often quicker than them. He’s learning how to handle hand leverage. In the pros defensive lineman understand that if they get their hands inside (on an offensive lineman’s chest) they are going to win. In college they don’t do that as much. You have to learn how important it is to maintain hand leverage. Joe will get it. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”

In the meantime, there’s the couch.

“I’ve got to learn quick,” laughed Eppele, “I can’t handle the couch.”


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