Colon catches on quick

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

If Gilles Colon turns into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers next really good Canadian receiver, the Bombers have some interesting thank-you letters to pen.

They can start by sending one to the World Bank, which paid for Colon's tuition that first year at Bishop's University.

They can send one to the coaches at Bishop's, who, unsure what position to try Colon at since he'd never played football before, decided to throw at him to see if he could catch.

And they can thank Colon's mom, who let her kid drive to NFL training camps during his summers off to learn his new sport.

Bottom line: the 24-year-old Haitian-American, who qualifies as a Canadian in the CFL, has beaten some awfully long odds to wind up in the Bombers starting lineup.

"My whole football background goes against a lot of odds," Colon was saying yesterday. "But to go against the odds, I love it."

Here's the Colon's Notes version of his background.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Colon's parents moved to Virginia when he was still a baby.

SWITCH SPORTS

Despite growing up in a football-mad region of the U.S., soccer and basketball were his games. Besides, the private, Christian schools he was attending didn't have football teams.

That's when fate decided Colon should switch sports.

His mom was an accountant with the World Bank, an organization that would pay for his tuition, but only at a university outside the U.S.

Colon wound up at Bishop's, in Quebec, where he ran into a couple of football players who told him he should try out.

"They started throwing me balls, and I caught everything," Colon said. "They were throwing harder and harder and harder, and I kept catching them. So they said, 'Hey, you're a receiver.'"

That was the easy part.

It wasn't as much fun when Colon couldn't figure out how to put his equipment on, having never seen the stuff before. And his first film session?

"They're talking about Cover 3 or Cover 1, and I'm like, 'What's that?' But I'm the type of person that learns really fast by observation."

No kidding.

After watching and red-shirting that first year, Colon was starting in Year 2. And now that he had the football bug, he was ravenous to learn as much as he could, as fast as he could.

So when he'd go back home to Virginia for the summers, he'd grab a video camera and head off to NFL training camps in Washington and Baltimore, determined to learn from the best.

"I drove, like, four hours to go to Ravens camp and film that," Colon recalled. "Watching receivers, over and over. I did as much as I could, just to learn. At a Canadian school, you don't get coached as much as you want to. I put everything into what I was doing."

A quick study, Colon improved, fast, but not enough to get noticed in his draft year, 2002.

"I just knew my fifth year, I had to get all-Canadian," he said. "That way they couldn't pass me up."

Sure enough, in 2003 Colon was a first-team all-Canadian, and the Bombers offered him a contract.

Last season, Colon earned a spot as a rookie, suiting up for 11 games. And after breaking his finger in training camp this year, he wound up where he wanted to be last week: in the starting lineup, scoring his first CFL touchdown, in a win over Hamilton.

Head coach Jim Daley says the job is Colon's to lose, in part because of how quickly he learns.

"He's got a tremendously sharp mind for the game," Daley said. "And is so athletic and smooth."

And to think, it all started on somewhat of a whim, on a field in Quebec, six years ago.

"They threw me a couple of balls, and I caught 'em," Colon said.

He's been catching them ever since.


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