August 13, 2018

Sharing French Language Creates Unique Brotherhood

It wouldn’t be surprising to see players from the same province hanging out because they could have played together in the past or met while growing up, but the bonds of Quebec athletes are even stronger because of the language.

“Each time you play against players who are French, you’re going to go say ‘Hi,’ make sure they’re good, make sure they’re healthy,” said Eskimos fullback Alex Dupuis, 28. “Sometimes, you even have dinner with them the night before the game, depending upon how close you are to those guys. I’m thinking about when I play against guys who I’ve played with.”

It’s even better when there are other French-Canadian players on your team “because you get to speak French together,” he said. “When I was in Toronto, I was the only one who was French-Canadian, so I was talking French by myself.

“It’s fun here,” Dupuis added about the Eskimos. “We have a big group who are French-Canadian.

“It’s fun, too, when they bring their family or friends from Montreal; you can actually talk French with them. Some people in Montreal or Quebec are not comfortable speaking English, so bringing them to other French people is good for them. I’m thinking about Christophe Normand. He’s bringing his wife and his kids over here. They’re French, so it’s easier to speak French than English, even though his girlfriend is really good at English.”

There are six members of the French-Canadian brotherhood playing with the Eskimos – Dupuis, Normand, Pascal Lochard, Sam Giguere, Jean-Simon Roy and Jordan Beaulieu.

Lochard and Normand are both fullbacks and former teammates from Laval University, where offensive lineman Roy also played, while Dupuis and defensive back Beaulieu have been friends for 10 years and are currently roommates.

“During my first year in Winnipeg (in 2015), I was pretty lucky,” Normand said. “There were other Laval guys – Julian Feoli-Gudino, Michel-Pierre Pontbriand and Dominic Picard – so it was a good experience. They took me under their wing, and it was a fun year with them.

“I’m still in contact with some of the guys from Winnipeg, where I lived, and I played a long time with guys like Shayne Gauthier and Feoli. They’re French-Canadians, but they’re guys who I played college with for four years before.”

Normand, 26, also played against Dupuis (University of Montreal) in college.

Giguere, who joined the Eskimos as a free agent after training camp on June 26, has played 99 games as a receiver in the CFL since 2012 after spending four years in the NFL – mostly on the practice roster or trying out with the Indianapolis Colts (he made it down to the final cuts three years in a row) or New York Giants from 2008-11.

“I was fortunate I went to high school in English, so it helped me a lot,” said Giguere, who didn’t have a big adjustment when he went to the NFL.

In the CFL, however, he’s usually had a big group of French-speaking players on his team, just like this year’s version of the Eskimos.

“Nowadays, I’ve got a wife and two kids at home, so I’m not hanging out with the guys as much as I used to,” Giguere said. “But when we’re on the road, definitely.”

Football fans may recognize Giguere’s name from another sport. The 33-year-old native of Sherbrooke, Que., has been with the Canadian bobsleigh team off and on during the past six seasons and went to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics earlier this year as an alternate brakeman in four-man bobsled.

“It was a great experience to be able to go to Korea and take part in the biggest show in amateur sport,” he said.

Giguere slid during practice but didn’t get to dress for any races.

“I was fortunate to be able to get a taste of bobsleigh a few years back,” he said. “It’s always something that interested me, just watching the sport on TV when I was growing up. After that, when I was playing football, I knew that would be something I would be good at just because of the abilities that you need to have success in football are very similar to the ones you need in bobsled.

“When I came back from the NFL, I didn’t have a contract in the CFL yet,” he continued. “I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing football. I had just recovered from an injury, so I was kind of at a crossroads. It seemed like a good time to try the sport, so I just wrote an email to Bobsleigh Canada, asking to try the sport. They invited me to Calgary for a week, I tried it, and I was hooked.”

That was in the spring of 2012.

“I haven’t been there every year, but four of the last six,” he said. “Sometimes after a football season, I haven’t been in good enough shape because with injuries and whatnot.”

There aren’t many French-speaking athletes in bobsleigh “just because out east we don’t have exposure to the sport, really, with the facilities being in Calgary and in Whistler (B.C.),” he said.

When Dupuis was a CFL rookie with Toronto in 2014, Herve Tonye-Tonye, a linebacker from Cameroon, was the only other player who could speak French on the Argos.

“I spoke English,” Dupuis said. “I understood it better than I spoke at that time.

“I was the only French-Canadian in the offensive room so that I couldn’t ask questions in French, right. All the questions were asked in English.

“Of course, it was a bigger barrier at the beginning. But it’s part of the job, and you know when you’re going to play in the CFL, it’s going to be in English, so you just need to be ready. Otherwise, the coach might hold that against you because, if they think you don’t understand what they’re saying when they’re coaching you, they might be less inclined to put you on the field.”