Inside the CFL: Canadian Alouettes running back Jeshrun Antwi bucks the trend

Although he didn’t start playing soccer until he was 14, Antwi is playing the primary running back position, a spot usually reserved for American players.

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Athletes who don’t start playing a sport until the age of 14 are supposed to become professionals. Nor are they expected to turn pro when they aren’t drafted until the sixth round.

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But don’t tell that to the Alouettes’ Jeshrun Antwi, who not only made it to the CFL but, as a Canadian, is playing the prime running back position, a spot usually reserved for US-born players.

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“Have faith and trust,” said Antwi, 24. “When I got the chance this season, I put it on record that I can be a standout running back in this league. As long as I’m here, I’ll keep trying to represent the next generation.”

While it took a broken ankle suffered by William Stanback in the first game this season to push Antwi into this role, one he shares with import Walter Fletcher, the Israeli-born, Ghanaian-raised 6-foot-220 pounds has proven more than capable.

Heading into Friday’s home game against Hamilton, Antwi, the Als’ leading rusher, had 82 carries for 487 yards in 12 games. With an average of 5.9 yards, it’s arguable that Montreal doesn’t lean on him enough; certainly not as much as they relied on Stanback, last season’s leading running back and an Eastern Division MVP nominee. While Antwi has yet to score a touchdown, he has had ample opportunities, including a 70-yard run against Calgary and a 55-yard run against Ottawa.

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“Canadian running backs in this league are gold to me,” said André Bolduc, Antwi position coach and assistant head coach for the Als. “He can play fullback, tailback. He catches well and runs well, arrange to protect him if he’s wrong.

“It’s a good story. That’s what Canadians should be in this league. Get them young. He is only 24 years old, but he has already had three training camps with us. With all the quality reps he has now, he could end up starting somewhere along the way. I had no hesitation in starting with it and have enjoyed it. I am very proud of him.”

But there is much more to the story of Antwi, who overcame adversity through diligence and hard work.

After his family emigrated from Ghana to Calgary, and while he was in high school, Antwi decided to try soccer. Volleyball was her first choice: her mother was not interested in the violent aspect of soccer. A physical education teacher convinced Antwi that she could be successful in soccer if he learned to cut through people, delivering, not absorbing punishment.

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Antwi’s mother, who worked in the hospitality industry and as a caregiver, instilled in her the importance of having a strong work ethic and putting her heart into everything she undertakes.

Antwi credits his high school principal, Kate Miller, and her husband, Kevin, with taking him into their home and helping him get into the University of Calgary and also helping him financially, taking much of the burden off his shoulders. his mother.

Montreal Alouettes running back Jeshrun Antwi runs past Calgary Stampeders linebacker Cameron Judge during the second half in Calgary on June 9, 2022.
Montreal Alouettes running back Jeshrun Antwi runs past Calgary Stampeders linebacker Cameron Judge during the second half in Calgary on June 9, 2022. Photo by Jeff McIntosh /the canadian press

Antwi was a star with Dinos, a perennially successful show, graduating with degrees in education and sociology, his focus on criminal deviance. Antwi contemplated becoming a police officer if professional football hadn’t worked out, and she spends her offseason at a Calgary high school, teaching social studies and physical education, as well as helping coach the basketball team.

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Antwi relies heavily on his commute while in the classroom, believing that his age is what potentially separates him from his peers, best helping the teacher-student relationship.

“I tell you everything that is happening right now, in a few years it will not matter,” he said. “They may or may not remember it. Every feeling you have will pass. Come and go. The world is not going to end just because you fail an exam.

Just as Antwi’s career was not over after two crucial fumbles last season in the final game against Ottawa, when a win would have kept alive the Als’ dream of finishing second in the division and hosting a playoff game. The next morning, Antwi went to Bolduc’s office to apologize, believing that he had disappointed his coach.

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“That match was tough,” Antwi recalled. “We would have won the game if I get a first down. He was trying to be the hero of the game. Let the plays come to you. Make the plays.

“I am my worst critic. Focus on the moment. You can’t overthink everything. Last year, I was playing tight.”

While Antwi said he was devastated to see Stanback injured, he also quickly realized this would be his chance to shine, proving he could be more than just another Canadian playing special teams.

There aren’t many who aren’t imported in this role: Toronto’s Andrew Harris, Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira and his backup, Johnny Augustine, Edmonton’s Maleek Irons and the Tiger-Cats’ Sean Thomas-Erlington are a few exceptions. And while Antwi’s career path could eventually lead him back to Calgary, where Jon Cornish spent nine seasons as the Stampeders’ standout running back, he knows the door has been opened.

“I never take any of this for granted,” Antwi said. “There is no better job than this, coming here with teammates that I will cherish forever.”

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