Second shot at life

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

Dominic Picard's eyes still turn dark when you ask him about that day.

Not many 22-year-olds think about dying, particularly 6-foot-2 behemoths who play football. But that's exactly what Picard was forced to deal with on Nov. 9, 2004.

A member of the Laval University Rouge et Or, the defending national champs at the time, Picard hadn't been feeling quite himself the last while. To this day he can't explain it, but something told him to go see a doctor.

"It's like I had a voice in myself, I don't know," Picard was saying during a break at Blue Bomber rookie camp.

It would have been easy to put it off for a few weeks. The Rouge et Or were getting ready for another playoff run, and as their first-team All-Canadian centre, Picard was a key part of it.

It's a good thing he didn't.

It turned out Picard had testicular cancer, and would need surgery as soon as possible.

DARK DAY

Now, 70-30 odds are pretty good when they represent your chance of winning a football game. Not so good when they represent your odds of survival.

"It was a dark day," Picard, a product of Sainte Foy, Que., said, his gentle voice belying his nearly 300-pound frame. "Just talking to it, I don't feel good. Everything was dark."

The next few paragraphs will tell Bomber fans all they need to know about the man Winnipeg chose 23rd overall in this year's Canadian college draft.

Despite his illness, Picard continued to show up at practice with the Rouge et Or. He may be the first player to help his team win a championship without even stepping onto the field.

"He wanted to make sure he was a team guy," Laval head coach Glen Constantin said at the time. "He was supporting us, instead of the other way around."

The following weekend, Laval went out and won the Quebec championship, and guess who was the first to hoist the Dunsmore Cup that day?

Same thing a week later, when Laval won the Uteck Bowl.

Picard was so highly regarded at his school, the university president flew him to Hamilton for the Vanier Cup the next weekend, even though Picard had his surgery the Wednesday before the title game.

When Laval beat Saskatchewan for the national championship, there was Picard again, in streetclothes, lifting the Vanier Cup in the air before any of his teammates.

"He's a devoted player, more devoted than any of us," running back Jeronimo Huerta-Flores said. "He'd love to be playing, and the only thing we could do is play for him."

Picard kept telling his teammates they didn't know how lucky they were.

A little more than a month later, Picard felt like the lucky one.

"It was the most beautiful day of my life," he said, recalling Jan. 4, 2005. "He (the doctor) said I was cleared. It was the most beautiful gift I could get."

A second chance at life, Picard went at it full-throttle, winning the J. P. Metras Trophy as the country's top university lineman last year.

"It was my dream. I just wanted to play football again, and I had this trophy," he said.

Another dream came true this spring, when the Bombers gave him a chance to become a pro.

It's hard to imagine anybody appreciating a training camp as much as Picard is this one.

"I learn every practice, every day," he said. "I love it. I'm getting better. I feel it. I can't wait until the vets are coming on Sunday. I'm going to practise with them so I'll be able to learn more."

Picard still sees a doctor every two months, but he feels as good as ever.

Chances are, he'll never take football for granted again.

"When I step on the field, it's a special moment for me," he said. "Every night when I go to sleep, I think about it. It's a gift every day."


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