McKinlay excused to pursue new career

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Neil McKinlay's story is just another example of how quirky the CFL can be.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers special teamer is being excused from tomorrow's crucial tilt against the B.C. Lions so he can pursue another job.

The 28-year-old is trying to become a firefighter in his home province of B.C. He left for North Vancouver yesterday afternoon and will return to Winnipeg on Monday.

"If I don't go out there and do this for this weekend, I was out," McKinlay said yesterday before his flight. "Out of 350 (applicants), I'm down to the last 10."

Will learn his fate

There's a very good chance McKinlay's six-year CFL career will come to a close if he gets the job. He will learn his fate at the end of the month, but eight firefighters in the department are retiring this year and there are 10 applicants remaining.

You do the math.

"I'm not going just because," said McKinlay, whose father and father-in-law are both firefighters. "I've got a 90% chance of getting a job, so it's one of those things.

"It's tough leaving these idiots (his teammates). I've missed two games in six years. I feel guilty, but it's something you can't pass on, unfortunately."

Bombers head coach Mike Kelly didn't hesitate in letting McKinlay go this weekend.

"This is about a guy's life," Kelly said. "(Playing for the Bombers) is just football. This is about a guy taking care of his wife and two kids. For him to be in that situation, I wasn't going to deny him that opportunity."

McKinlay has been travelling to North Vancouver on Bomber off days for the last two months as part of the application process, and this weekend he and the other hopefuls are doing mandatory ride-alongs and training sessions. After this weekend, the only thing left is an interview with the chief.

McKinlay, a Langley, B.C., native who married a Winnipeg girl and has made Manitoba his year-round home, appreciates what the Bombers are doing for him.

"They understand I'm not making a ton of dough and it's a family thing, security-wise," he said. "I'm getting a little bit longer in the tooth, and it's getting tougher and tougher every year.

"(Firefighting) is a 30-year career. I've been lucky enough to be here for six years. And be here -- not bouncing all over the place. So we'll see what happens."

McKinlay has been a key member of Winnipeg's special teams, and he has filled in admirably at linebacker when called upon. His presence will be missed tomorrow in a game the Bombers need to win.

"He's been a big factor for us," Kelly said. "He's been a heck of a football player this year for us and just a great guy to have around.

"If, in fact, this ends up being his last football season, then he oughta be very, very proud of how he's played this year."

LATE HITS: Bomber running back Fred Reid (hip) practised yesterday and ran even better than Kelly thought he would, so he'll start tomorrow. The same can't be said for Lions tailback Martell Mallett, who will sit out with a foot injury. A.J. Harris, who played for Edmonton last season, will get his first start of the season ... The Bombers (6-8) will make at least three roster changes against the Lions (7-7). In are receiver Dante Luciani, linebacker Joe Lobendahn and defensive end Justin Shaw. Out are McKinlay, punter Mike Renaud (knee) and linebacker Barrin Simpson, who goes back to being a healthy scratch. Receiver-returner Titus Ryan will reportedly get his first action as a Bomber as well ... The Bombers had sold more than 21,000 tickets as of 3 p.m. yesterday.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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