With an Aug. 5 kickoff looking more and more likely, 2 and Out writers Troy Durrell and Kyle Marshall will be talking to players off all nine CFL teams to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic, their off-season training and their level of optimism of the season starting on time. This week’s guest is Montreal Alouettes linebacker Chris Ackie.
Thanks to the emergence of starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and first-year head coach Khari Jones, the Montreal Alouettes were one of the biggest surprises coming out of the 2019 Canadian Football League campaign. The Alouettes were pegged to finish near the bottom of the standings, yet finished the season 10-8 and hosted its first home playoff game since 2014. The Alouettes lost that Eastern Semi-Final 37-29 to Edmonton, but rejuvenated the fan base and the players on the team.
“We’re definitely looking to build off 2019. It’s going to be business as usual for us in Montreal,” said Ackie, who finished 2019 with 38 tackles in 10 games while playing the weak-side linebacker spot for the Alouettes.
“Vernon (Adams Jr.) has already gotten the offence together in the off-season to get some work in and make sure the timing is right. That’s definitely what you want in a leader. Guys rally around him because he’s great in the locker room and great on the field. I know guys can’t wait to get back to work.”
Ackie also said he feels like there’s been a culture change in the Alouettes organization, largely in part to Khari Jones.
“I also feel like Montreal has switched a lot over the last couple years. Early in my career, Montreal was a place where older stars used to go because Montreal would have to pay in order to get them on the team,” he said. “Now Montreal is a spot where people want to come here because they know the culture that we’ve built in 2019 and the city is a great place to be. Free agents want to be here and looking at our roster on paper, I think we’re as good as anyone.”
“Khari Jones is a big part of it too. He’s already my favourite head coach that I’ve been around in both amateur and professional football. He’s a players-coach so he knows how to take care of the players and he has that personality that guys want to rally around him and go out and lay it all on the line for him.”
This will be Ackie’s third stint with Montreal, who drafted him in 2015. He was traded to Ottawa at the 2018 CFL trade deadline and played three regular season games as well as two playoff games with the REDBLACKS before signing back with Montreal ahead of 2019. In the 2020 CFL Free Agency, Ackie then signed a one-year deal with his hometown Toronto Argonauts, although he never suited up for the Argos due to the cancellation of the 2020 season. When Ackie and the Argos couldn’t agree on a new deal for 2021, the Cambridge, Ontario native opted to go back to Montreal.
“So with Ottawa, it was more of a rental trade. We only had three or four games left in the season and we (Montreal) weren’t going to make the playoffs and Ottawa was in first place. So I remember the day of the trade deadline, a few teams put in some bids for me and I guess Ottawa sent over a good one and I was in the last year of my contract,” Ackie said when reflecting on his past movement.
“Montreal wasn’t sure if they’d get me back or not if I went to free agency, so then I remember speaking with the General Manager at the time (Kavis Reed) and he said to me ‘hey I got a bunch of teams asking for you at the trade deadline, we traded away our first and second round pick to get Johnny Manziel from Hamilton, we need some draft picks back and we’re not sure if you’re coming back next year so we’re looking to trade you.’ He was pretty transparent with me and asked where I wanted to go, he told me the teams, I asked who was giving them the best deal and it was Ottawa.”
“It turned out to be a win-win because I got to go to the first-place team, it was the first time in my career I got to go to the playoffs and we made the Grey Cup. Then things just kind of worked out (in free agency) to go back to Montreal. Then when I signed with Toronto in 2020, I wanted to try something new and be closer to home since I’m from Ontario. I wanted to try it for one year, see how I liked it and then the pandemic hit and the season got cancelled so we went back to negotiating. We were working on a deal with Toronto but Montreal came back and were showing a lot of love to me and made me feel wanted so that’s why I went back to Montreal.”
Like all CFL players, Ackie was forced to find work during the pandemic. He finished his Canadian Securities Course with a financial certificate from the Canadian Securities Institute (CSI). He currently works for an Information Technology (IT) research and advisory firm where he specializes in the sports and entertainment industry helping professional sports teams with IT related tasks. He also owns the Impulse Football camp, although camp dates have had to get pushed back several times due to pandemic restrictions.
While his life away from football is running fairly smoothly, the cancellation of the 2020 season has caused a void for Ackie. He was still able to train and workout over the course of the last 15 months in preparation for the upcoming season.
“I’m 50/50 right now in terms of starting in August. I think it’s 100 per cent we play football this year, I just don’t know if we start on time,” Ackie said.
“Aug. 5th sounds promising but training camp is supposed to start July 10 and we’re already in early June, yet we haven’t heard from the league if that’s confirmed. Guys will need to be in their respective cities by July 1 or July 2 … but we still haven’t gotten confirmation on that. It could be a quick turnaround, Americans have been fortunate to be able to work out in gyms but a lot of Canadians are still doing home workouts. I think players need at least a month in order to get ready for the season, so hearing sooner rather than later would be beneficial to the players if the league is serious on starting in August.”
Whenever the Alouettes and the rest of the CFL return to the field, Ackie said the expectations will be the same as every other year.
“As a team, it’s the same plan every year. We’re trying to win the Grey Cup,” Ackie said.
“For myself, I just want to have a successful season, try to be a leader on the defence. I’m not worried about personal accolades, I just want to be someone that other guys look up to and leave it on the line every play.”
For more information on Ackie’s football camp, please visit http://www.implusefootballcamp.com.