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From Steeltown to Bytown: Getting to Know New Ottawa REDBLACKS Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli

The Ottawa REDBLACKS have just completed one of the biggest off-season CFL overhauls in the capital’s history – and you’re safe to include the old Rough Riders and Renegades in that discussion. The REDBLACKS picked up 17 CFL players on their free agent shopping list this year, shoring up almost every position on the roster.

Their marquee free agent signing was Jeremiah Masoli, a franchise quarterback who’d spent the past eight years in Hamilton. It’s a twoyear deal that will reportedly pay him $450,000 this season, making him one of the highest paid players in the league.

Not only did Masoli upgrade the quarterback position markedly, his signing very likely made Ottawa a destination of choice for other CFL free agents.

The affable 33-year-old has been to three Grey Cups, including last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Winnipeg. In 2018, Masoli was the Eastern nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Player and looked like he might be in the running in 2019 as well. Unfortunately, with the Ticats off to a dominating 4-1 start that year, Masoli’s season ended with a knee injury – a torn ACL. That allowed his understudy, Dane Evans, to step up and take the reins.

Hamilton’s quarterback position has basically been a timeshare ever since. That said, Masoli never stopped being a franchise quarterback. The Tiger-Cats simply discovered they had two of them. But make no mistake. In Ottawa, Masoli is the guy. And with all the positive changes here, the sky’s the limit.

Faces caught up with Masoli to learn more about the man the REDBLACKS hope will lead them back into contention this season

You had options in free agency. Why did you decide to sign in Ottawa?

I really do like this city, just from visiting as an opponent. I really like the stadium. But the main factor was having somebody to push me and make me better – somebody that I believe in that can take us to the Cup. It was coach LaPolice. As familiar as I was with our GM here (Shawn Burke), I know what (Burke) brings to the table and you see what he’s done. Just the conversations I had with LaPolice, I knew pretty quickly we were going to get along. Just hearing him talk about offence and what he wanted to do with me, it was an easy sell for me.

The REDBLACKS have won just three games in each of the past two seasons. Are you excited about the challenge of helping them turn things around?

I’ve seen when this team was very successful and how great the fans in the city responded. So, I definitely want to help turn things around. Our goals will never change, right? We want to win big. We want to win it all. We want to be the best. That’s the vision, that’s the plan. Everything else besides that, let’s not let it get in our way. If it’s in our way, we’ll figure out how to get around it. It is a great challenge. I am happy to be a part of it and do it with my brothers here. So it’ll be fun.

After eight years in Hamilton, what’s it been like learning a whole new playbook here in Ottawa?

Man, it’s been refreshing. It’s been an awesome challenge. To hear new verbiage, different concepts. Just the way that LaPo (head coach Paul LaPolice) thinks, the mindset of this offence, the philosophy behind it. You know, being in Hamilton so long, I kind of knew that playbook like the back of my hand. So being here, I love it. It’s given me another challenge.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family and life, growing up in San Francisco?

I love San Francisco. It was awesome, man. Just a melting pot of all the cultures. Big Samoan community out there. My family comes from Samoan heritage – my grandparents came over from Samoa in the sixties. My parents (Kennedy and Linda) were born in Hawaii and California. Coming up in the 90s and early 2000s…I was super fortunate. My parents were able to send us back to the islands. Every other summer growing up, I was able to get back in touch with my roots and learn how to live on the land. I always knew that experience was helping me.

When I came back to the States, like I could see my friends or even my cousins just taking things for granted – whether it’s colour TVs or hot water. I remember my Dad taking me to watch high school practices in Samoa. People were sharing helmets. No shoulder pads. So, it just gave me a deep appreciation really early on about what I had living in America. Coming up, it was such a joy for sure. I had such a loving family and environment. I’m super thankful for that.

How did you get started in football and was it always going to be the quarterback position for you?

The plan was always quarterback for sure. My Dad was a quarterback when he was growing up. He played in high school and junior college but messed up his knee. He was always the quarterback, one of the better ones coming out of San Francisco back in the day.

I was a three-sport athlete – baseball, basketball, football. I started playing football in the fifth grade when I was 10. I played left guard, nose guard, fullback, and middle linebacker. But every day after practice, even in those days when I was playing different positions, it would be just me and my dad and he’d make me throw the whole route tree (throwing to all the possible routes that receivers run). So he was preparing me to be a quarterback the whole time anyway. So that really helped. I just fell in love with the game early. Playing those other positions, you appreciate what everybody else has to do.

How did your football path take you to the CFL?

I got a long story, as far as football goes. I went to Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. It’s an all-boys private school. Tom Brady went there, Barry Bonds went there, Lynn Swann went there. Then I transferred over to Saint Louis High School in Hawaii, another football powerhouse.

After that, I went to city college in San Francisco. We won the national championship there in 2007. I was MVP of the league and got some scholarship offers. Long story short, I went to Oregon (where Masoli appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2009 College Football Preview issue), then went to Ole Miss. After my career at Ole Miss, (former Ottawa Renegades GM) Eric Tillman was the GM in Edmonton. He’s an Ole Miss grad as well so we kind of had that Mississippi connection. After I was done college, I went to the San Francisco 49ers for camp, got released, then played in the United Football League. Then I came up to Edmonton. I was there with (last year’s REDBLACKS starting quarterback) Matt Nichols on the team. I was traded after that first year and I’ve been in Hamilton ever since. Canada’s been good to me. Football’s been great to me. It’s been awesome.

 

What’s your best CFL memory or two from your Hamilton days?

Obviously, one of the easy ones is the game (2016 vs Edmonton) where I had 23 completions in a row (still an all-time CFL record). I think the game was also the largest comeback in Ticats’ history (winning 36-31 after being down 31-6 at the half).

Also, when Ticats head coach June Jones came up here, that was super awesome. I learned so much from that guy. So appreciative of his role in my life.

And we tied the record for most consecutive 300-yard games (10 straight, tied with Sam Etcheverry and Kent Austin). Besides that, just making life-long friends. Some of my boys over there…it’s a “friends forever” type of deal. That’s always the best thing about football.

When you have a big game, what family member are you most excited to share it with?

Probably my little brother, Zach. He was a quarterback too (Augustana University), so we’re always talking about the games and stuff like that.

Do you have a nickname?

A couple of people call me “Soli.” Nobody called me that until I got to Canada. They kind of got lazy and started calling me Soli instead of Masoli. My family called me “Miah” back home. A lot of people call me “J” but I’m good with Jeremiah, the name my parents gave me.

Any hobbies or hidden talents?

Man, my hobbies right now are my kids. I am so invested in just being a dad right now and raising my kids. I got a five-year-old son (Kennedy) and a two-year-old daughter (Serena). At that age, we’re kind of following their schedules. I love just being out with my kids and my wife (Vunga), out in nature. We’re definitely big on hiking nature trails.

Speaking of family, some of your tattoos are tributes to your family, right?

Yeah, I got this one right here for my kids (gesturing toward his tattoos). It’s pretty special to me. They’re all special. That crown right there is from my grandfather’s grave. This Samoan head dress right here is for my daughter. And this one’s for the villages out there in Samoa.

Favourite Food?

I’m a big watermelon guy. I’m not even joking. We juice watermelon all day at our house. Besides that, my auntie had a pizza shop – one of the only pizza places in Samoa. I was delivering pizzas when I was like 7 years old out of the back of a pickup truck. You could just ride in the back of a pickup truck out there. My family definitely loves pizza.

So maybe Watermelon Pizza could be a thing?

Uh, that doesn’t sound right (laughs)!

If you weren’t playing pro football, what do you think you’d be doing?

In my fantasy life, I’m probably playing basketball with Steph Curry right now, going to the finals (laughs).

Favourite thing to do when the coach gives you the day off?

I’m a big swimmer. So I’d like to find a good spot to go swimming with my family somewhere in Ottawa.

Any thoughts on your first spring in Ottawa? Certainly, the weather has been unpredictable, including a massive storm and power outage.

Oh, man. Seriously. In the month I’ve been here, I’ve gotten all four seasons. I’ve got the Ottawa sample already. But no, we’ve been good. Fortunately, our power came back on in a couple of days so we were all right.

What have you liked so far about the city of Ottawa?

Sherrod Baltimore (REDBLACKS defensive back) had a family and friends’ day here. I can tell there’s a real community. They have such a good heart here. I can’t wait to really get in the community. After camp is done, we’ll have more time to get together with some of these youth football teams out here. We’ll definitely get to exploring Ottawa soon enough.

If Masoli is anxious to see Ottawa this summer, the city’s football fans will tell you the feeling is mutual.

 

By Steve Warne

 

 

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