Tangled up in Blue

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Character. Respect for the community. Pride in the uniform.

Mike Kelly speaks of these things often, has since the day he took over as Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach in December.

At the same time, among the new players due to report for training camp today are at least four with checkered pasts that include repeated run-ins with the law, failed drug tests, even prison time.

A contradiction?

"Obviously, I've made it very clear how we want to present ourselves here, how we want to act," Kelly was saying yesterday. "But I also understand we're dealing with guys in their 20s."

Of course, not all 20-year-olds spend time behind bars, like running back/receiver Ramonce Taylor did last year.

A star with the NCAA champion University of Texas in 2005 -- he scored 15 touchdowns -- Taylor, already on academic suspension, was originally busted for having four bags of marijuana in his car, in '06.

Multiple parole violations later, including two positive drug tests, Taylor was sent to jail for five months.

Last night, he was to arrive in Winnipeg, where his head coach is confident he's learned his lesson, albeit the hard way.

"Sometimes that two-by-four right across a mule's forehead, sooner or later they finally get it," Kelly said. "Not everybody looks good in orange. He recognized that."

Receiver Adarius Bowman's marijuana possession charge was relatively simple.

But it derailed his chance of being drafted out of Oklahoma State last year, and forced him to start his career in Saskatchewan.

A trade brought Bowman to the Bombers, where tomorrow morning he'll hear Kelly talk to the players about the dangers of substance abuse.

"I'll talk about drugs and alcohol," Kelly said. "I'll talk about staying out of the bar in the hotel. If they go out and do that on a regular basis, then obviously they won't be able to perform ... and they end up cutting themselves."

Linebacker Keyuo Craver certainly had a hand in the end of his NFL career, failing drug tests three times while with New Orleans from 2002-04.

After two years in Edmonton and one in the Arena League, Craver, 28, signed here as a free agent.

"If everybody that twisted one up (was banned), there wouldn't be any pro leagues at any level," Kelly said. "I'm not trying to be a wise guy. If people don't understand that, then they're living with blinders on."

Kelly tells the story of former Bomber Larry Thompson, who'd been in plenty of trouble by the time he arrived in the early '90s.

"There was something inherently good about Larry that I knew you needed to keep cultivating," Kelly said. "With some kids you recognize there's something inherently bad with them. And you don't need to, in essence, waste your time with them."

Kelly certainly doesn't feel that way about linebacker Siddeeq Shabazz, whose past includes kidnapping, false imprisonment and battery charges while in college, in '01.

Shabazz's six-year pro career has been incident-free, including last season with Kelly in Edmonton.

Not rollling dice

"I've been around him very closely for a year," Kelly said. "You want to talk about a guy that's grown up and is family oriented now."

So in Kelly's mind, he's not even rolling the dice with most players.

The hope is the straight-and-narrow leaders of the team police the few with a history of messing up.

"You can't have a lot that fit in that category," the coach acknowledged. "I certainly understand that one apple can spoil a whole barrel. And we'll keep a close eye on that."

The leash for them, Kelly says, will be short.

"Any sign of a level of stupidity, and the airport's only five minutes away," he said. "I don't have to honour anybody's scholarship here."

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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