One tough hombre

JULIE HORBAL -- For Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Sticks and stones may break his bones, but names could never hurt Eric Wilson.

In fact, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman relishes the fact some people accuse him of playing, how shall we say this, on the edge of the rules.

Call him all the names you want, but there's only one that matters: Tough.

A Bomber in 2002 and '03, Wilson returned to Winnipeg in early September after a two-year stint with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

His rep as a rough hombre preceded him, and it didn't take long for opponents to find out why.

His teammates, either.

The 28-year-old stormed into his first practice by charging lineman Stevie Baggs, reclaiming his physical reign over the field prior to even playing a game.

"It took a little bit, but it's really fun to get back and be the crazy man out there," laughed Wilson, who after that first practice promised "entertaining" things of his forthcoming debut and did not fail to deliver.

RUN HIM UNTIL DAY'S END

"If guys remembered me from back in '02 and '03, they remember how I played my game. I get under people's skin and just run him until the day's end. That's something you try to keep up and that's my game. The vets look at me like I'm all over the place, but that's me and that's why I'm here."

Wilson served as Winnipeg's utility man prior to his Miami migration in early 2004, serving time on both O- and D-lines. This time around, the schoolyard bully by field and gentlemanly softy by sideline rejoined the Bombers with more than one task next to his name: roughen and toughen up the roster and bolster the bumbling Blue offence prior to the Banjo Bowl.

The one-time defensive tackle-turned O-liner was converted to a never-before-played right tackle when he arrived back in town and admits the move was as much in his mind as showing off his attitude during his homecoming game.

"I loved coming back into that reputation, but in coming into a new position along with it, I sort of had to hold off until that first game," Wilson said. "At the same time I was working on learning, trying to get new plays. But once you get on the field, it's all football and that's what I know, adjustments and all."

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound piston managed to adjust and his presence did not go unnoticed in Winnipeg's Banjo Bowl win. But Wilson is the first to admit the 43-9 loss to the Stamps that followed was a wake-up call as to what really needs to get done in Bomberville.

And though he is the relatively new kid on the block, he won't hesitate to drop a few stacks of books on the walk home to get the job done.

"We've got five games left and we need to do anything we can to win a few of them," said Wilson, who is more than happy to be a late-season addition to his old stomping ground -- expectations at all.

"(Guys who come in late) are brought here for a reason and, like everyone else, it can't be a pride issue. When you have the chance to help someone get better, you do it. Like the guys on the practice roster, they come in and bust their ass every day to get us ready for the game. We all know how to do our jobs."

The chance to once again do his job for his one and only CFL club was always something in the back of Wilson's mind, and after two actionless NFL seasons, a brief stint in Europe and shoulder surgery, the timing could not have been better for either party.

"I told my agent regardless of what happens in the NFL I wanted Winnipeg to have the first bid when I come back to the CFL," said Wilson. "A few weeks back, I got a call and my agent says 'You might want to start packing your bags,' and I was here at 6:30 the next morning."

Wilson laughed, pointing to the fan base and the widespread local acceptance as his favourite parts of Winnipeg. The drawling American Jekyll and Hyde also noted the off-field friendliness of the fans in Winnipeg and maintains his ability to drop the rough and tumble act when interacting with them is what he considers one of his assets -- and an asset a few pro players tend to lack.

"As soon as I get done on the field, I flip the switch and I pride myself on that," Wilson said. "A lot of things in life, I'm like that. I'm like a light switch. I don't want to drink a beer tonight, I don't drink a beer.

"A lot of guys have trouble turning it off, but it's something I pride myself in. I'm able to be a representable guy off the field, but when I step on the field I rev that motor and run real fast."

Wilson's go-go-go mentality converted into numbers for him his first time round Canad Inns Stadium and his transition from defence to offence garnered him more than ample praise.

He started 17 of 18 games his last season out, pulled both O and D duty in the final three games of 2003.

Wilson admitted feeling a bit like a "knight in shining armour" after the Banjo Bowl and a part of "a machine that completely fell apart" after the 43-9 bashing by Calgary that followed, but held firm to his nitty-gritty form through both of them.

And that is why he is back in town -- though he is not entirely sure where the root of his inner badass lies.

"It's something I've always had. I've always been that guy who plays to the whistle," said Wilson, who is sure to point out the cleanliness of every play he makes.

"Knock on wood, I haven't had too many penalties in my offensive career. Guys still complain, but I take it with a grain of salt. People tend to not like me, but I could care less."


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