Blue imports in heated battle to catch on

Blue Bombers receiver Paul Hubbard works out at Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg, Man., June 1, 2012....

Blue Bombers receiver Paul Hubbard works out at Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg, Man., June 1, 2012. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI Agency)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Two came from the cramped confines of the Arena Football League, one emerged from a street brawl outside a Buffalo nightclub.

But all three want the same thing as Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp shifts from rookie mode to an all-out rumble for jobs this weekend: the starting import receiver spot up for grabs.

Chris Matthews, Doug Pierce and Paul Hubbard are three of the front-runners to fill the big shoes of Greg Carr, who signed as a free agent with Edmonton. All three have size and speed that make you wonder why they haven’t had more of a shot down south.

Matthews is listed at 6-foot-5, Pierce 6-foot-6, but it’s the smallest of the three who’s trying to overcome the biggest setback.

Hubbard, a 6-foot-2 product of El Paso, Texas, saw his NFL dream go up in a hail of fists and booze last summer.

An innocent trip to a nightclub, his first in months, he says, turned ugly when one of the two women he was with was assaulted in a parking lot.

Hubbard intervened, and the rest is history — along with his Bills tryout.

“The entire night I had three beers in my system,” Hubbard said. “A brawl breaks out at that club. A 30-man brawl in the streets of Buffalo. Cops everywhere. There’s people fighting on my car at a stop light. I got the girls in my car, screaming — it’s total chaos.

“I was starting to pull off, and a police officer walks in front of my car. I bump him. Nothing too drastic. So I get in trouble.”

Hubbard, 26, says he was only charged with a traffic infraction, paid some fines and was done with it.

But soon Buffalo was done with him, too.

The next eight months all he could do was work out and hope for another chance.

When his agent came and told him somebody named Joe Mack from a team called the Blue Bombers wanted to work him out, he not only jumped at it, he paid his own way from his home in Colorado to Philadelphia for the workout.

Mack, the Bomber GM, was impressed enough to offer him a tryout. But even getting here turned out to be an adventure, as Hubbard missed the first day of rookie camp.

“Man, one flight was delayed, one flight they wouldn’t let me on the plane because it was too late to check bags in — I was three minutes late to check my bags in,” he said.

The man who finally did arrive in Winnipeg brought a new perspective along with his baggage.

“I understand even though I was in the wrong place at the wrong time it doesn’t make any excuse for what happened,” Hubbard said. “I’m an adult. I should know better, to make better decisions. I just made a poor decision that night. It makes you think about the bigger picture. Try to stay away from those type of deals.”

His deal here is no picnic.

No less than seven rookie imports are after the same job, a crowded field even for those who came from indoor football.

Like Matthews, most recently with the Arena League’s Iowa Barnstormers.

“The crazy thing about it, when I was back in California training, I used to always go home and check the Winnipeg site to see what was going on,” Matthews said. “It was probably every three days, two more wide receivers got signed. And then two more. I’m like, ‘Are we gonna have, like, 20 dudes comin’ out here?’

“You gotta compete. That’s the bottom line.”

Matthews has the advantage of having attended mini-camp here last month, where he impressed some of the veteran defensive backs.

Then there’s Pierce, who viewed the expansive Canadian field with a smile almost as big.

“When we were playing Arena, before I came here, I didn’t have a lot of room to really move around,” Pierce said. “I’m glad to be here. I don’t have to run up them walls anymore.”

No, but the obstacle in front of him and the others now might be harder to climb.


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