Bombers hopeful aiming for centre

Chris Kowalczuk has been fighting it out in training camp with Justin Sorensen to fill Obby Khan's...

Chris Kowalczuk has been fighting it out in training camp with Justin Sorensen to fill Obby Khan's spot as the starting centre for the Blue Bombers. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/Winnipeg Sun)

Ken Wiebe, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:26 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Chris Kowalczuk is no stranger to facing a challenge.

The hulking Winnipeg Blue Bombers hopeful is trying to hold off the more experienced Justin Sorensen in the battle to replace Obby Khan as the starting centre.

But Kowalczuk has plenty of experience in dealing with adversity, as a member of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues team that endured two full seasons of losses.

“I was part of the group that broke it,” said Kowalczuk, who was in his third season in 2008 when the team broke a 49-game losing streak with an 18-17 win over the Waterloo Warriors. “It was huge. To a lot of guys who were in their final year and part of that losing streak, they kept saying it was like winning the Vanier Cup. On that particular day, the stands were packed, people rushed onto the field and it was a great experience. It was an awesome day. An unforgettable day.”

The Blue Bombers took Saturday off, but will be back on the field on Sunday at 11 a.m. as they begin preparations for Wednesday’s pre-season finale with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Kowalczuk enrolled at the U of T to get himself an education, but during his second season, his love for football began to flourish and the dream of having a career as a professional took root.

“I chose it for the academics. My parents take academics very seriously and I wanted to make them proud and go to a really good school,” said Kowalczuk, who studied geographical science and history while playing four seasons with the Varsity Blues. “I don’t regret a single thing. I learned a lot. Part of me wishes I had played a little longer, but it was time to move onto bigger and better things in the CFL.”

Following his fourth season with the Varsity Blues, Kowalczuk spent the final two weeks of the 2009 campaign on the Ticats practice roster.

After spending the 2010 season on the Blue Bombers practice roster, he spent the first seven weeks last season on the reserve list for the Blue and Gold before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

The 6-foot-6, 298-pounder from Brampton, Ont. came back hungry and realizes what’s at stake for him.

“I was presented with the challenge of taking on the centre position,” said Kowalczuk. “I am here to compete. I’ve stepped to the plate. At this point, we’re still battling it out. Every day we’re being evaluated. It’s very exciting. It’s an opportunity I’ve waited for, for a long time. Justin’s my friend, but I’m going to do the very best I can to win that spot.

“I’m living the dream right now and I want to realize the dream of getting some actual playing time now. That’s what I’m fighting for.”

As for his assessment of his performance in Thursday’s 22-10 win over Montreal where he started at centre but split time with Sorensen, Kowalczuk estimated he made two mental errors but was happy with the calls and his physical play.

“It’s a new world for him and it’s a big responsibility, if he continues to improve like he is, I think he’ll be fine,” Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce said recently. “ Snapping the football, that’s not the tough part. It’s getting the offence in the right protections and directing guys on the line. For a guy who hasn’t had a lot of game experience, it’s hard. But he’s learning. He’s becoming more and more vocal, which is good to see. We’re getting more and more comfortable back there.”

— with files from Paul Friesen


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