Bombers' next great Canuck?

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:59 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The kid was maybe 10 years old, his dad at his side and one of those phony, mini footballs in his hand.

Together, they approached the youngest member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after practice Wednesday.

“He’s going to be another great receiver,” the father said to his son, as the man wearing No. 88 autographed the ball. “The next Rick House.”

“Hopefully,” the player said.

And I’m thinking, What 10-year-old has a clue who Rick House was?

Turns out a 21-year-old who’s supposed to be the next one has never heard of him, either.

“When did he play?” Jade Etienne asked a reporter, later.

Late seventies, early eighties, he was told.

“Before I was born,” Etienne said.

Actually, House returned for a second stint with the Bombers in 1989, the year Etienne took his first breath in Regina, of all places.

The point of all this: that when it comes to Canadian receivers, Bomber fans are still forced to live in the past.

Not since House and Joe Poplawski has this team fielded a Canuck couple that strikes fear into opposing defences.

And not since Gerald Wilcox in 1995 have the Bombers had even a single homegrown set of hands crack the 1,000-yard mark.

Going into the season, we’d hoped Cory Watson and/or rookie Kito Poblah might change all that.

Week 1 against Hamilton, Watson didn’t catch a single pass, while Poblah tore a knee ligament and landed on the nine-game injury list.

So will the next great Canadian pass catcher please stand up?

”It’s a dream, for sure,” Etienne said. “It’s every Canadian receiver’s dream.”

Expecting them to make an immediate impact out of college — now that’s probably a dream.

Just ask Paul LaPolice, who’s been coaching receivers in the CFL for 10 years.

“It’s a hard jump,” the Bomber head coach said. “All of a sudden they’re playing against pros, guys that come right out of the NFL. Sometimes the rookies have to understand that. You’re not playing the University of Calgary — you’re playing the Calgary Stampeders.”

Watson has found that out. And he’s 27.

What can we really expect from Etienne, a raw 21-year-old who’ll make his CFL debut when the Toronto Argos come to town Friday?

We’re talking about a former kicker who played just one full season of college ball as a receiver.

“It’s crazy — Doug Brown could be my father,” Etienne said.

“It’s just a different level of competition.”

Drafted fourth overall, Etienne looked star-struck and out of his league at rookie camp. After a pep talk from the coach, he’s made steady progress since.

But to the point where he’s ready to run out before 29,000 fans for the first time in his life and actually perform, even as a backup?

“I feel more ready than I’ve ever been,” the kid said, acknowledging it’s been a work in progress. “It’s a different game. It’s faster. And it’s starting to slow down a little bit for me.”

That’s in practice.

Etienne hopes going up against Brandon Stewart and Alex Suber every day, whom he calls the league’s best DBs, makes him ready.

And, yeah, he’s nervous.

Until now, his biggest contribution has been delivering donuts to the veteran receivers two days before games.

Wednesday, it was a box from Tim Hortons for the boys.

“Terrence and Greg are big fans of the honey dip,” Etienne said.

As for Etienne, he has the one fan, so far.

Actually, two.

“He’s going to be a great one,” LaPolice said.

That would mean the kid’s dad knew what he was talking about.


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