Argos' Kuale: 'Let me lead this defence'
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Argo linebacker/defensive end Ejiro Kuale listens to instruction from a coach during a recent workout at the team’s practice field in Mississauga, Ont. (MARK O’NEILL/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Ejiro Kuale has done everything for the Toronto Argonauts short of taking out the garbage and turning out the office lights.
The Argonauts recruited him after he was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs last year and turned him into a combination rush end on defence and a blocking fullback on offence. In his spare time he was a demon on special teams.
“I did it because last year was my first year, and even though I turned pro in 2006, it was like I was a rookie all over again. You do whatever you can to make the team and whatever the team needs. Now I’m asking them to let me do what got me a scholarship; what got me to the pros, let me lead this defence.”
With middle linebacker Jason Pottinger injured, he is getting the chance to prove himself, splitting reps in practice at the position with Anthony Cannon and Tristan Black.
“I love the position. I was born and bred to play this position,” Kuale said, Tuesday, as Toronto prepares for Friday’s game in Winnipeg. “I love contact. When I hit someone I’m doing it so that you remember me. Being linebacker you’re the quarterback of the defence. I’m calling the plays, I’m making the checks, I lead the huddle, the guys are looking up to me. I don’t want to play any position but linebacker. That isn’t to say, as a team player, I couldn’t help the offence. But I was born to kill and I was bred to get to the ball.”
Not short on confidence, he is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, with a physique that has yet to buddy up to anything resembling a fat molecule. That is matched with an iron will that has made him a survivor in the business of professional football.
It can be a harsh, unforgiving business, as evidenced by Pottinger who watched practice with his left leg wrapped from knee to ankle, his season potentially done.
Players come and go, there is little room for sentiment, and one man’s tears are matched by another’s joy and anticipation. A dream dies. A dream is reborn.
Kuale went to head coach Jim Barker in the off-season asking to go back to linebacker. “My thought was we should give him a shot,” said Barker, “... to give him an opportunity was well within the realm of what a player can ask for. He’s growing. Is he ready to play all the time? I don‘t know. There’s so many things that go on at the linebacker position — so much of it is experience and that’s what EJ is working on.”
From high school, to LSU and the NFL, Kuale has always had to fight for experience, for survival, and his place in this game.
“I grew up in Florida. Even when I was eight years old the competition was intense. So just because you weren’t a starter didn’t mean you weren’t a good player. There were just so many guys with talent. In high school I didn’t start until my senior year, it was that hard. When I went to college I had to fight my way through. So, I learned to become a team player.
“You can’t be selfish ... in the NFL, college, even back to Pop Warner I learned that the more things you can do for a team the longer you can be here.”
He has been cut, demoted and like Pottinger, he has felt the alienation that comes with being injured.
“You learn very quickly that the world doesn’t revolve around me,” said Kuale, “I’m expendable. They can find some guy younger, or someone who can do exactly what I do. It’s pro football, you got to realize I’m just a grain of salt in a big bowl. The important thing is just to be part of the team.”
So he’ll continue to play kamikaze kid on special teams and he’d be happy to knock heads with blitzing linemen as a fullback. But at heart he will always be a linebacker.
“I grew up playing linebacker, I played there in college, I played there in the NFL. There isn’t any reason for me to play anywhere else.”