The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are giving Rashaun Simonise a second lease on his pro football life.
Winnipeg took the six-foot-four, 202-pound receiver in the second round, No. 12 overall, in the CFL draft Thursday. It was the Bombers’ opening selection after dealing its first-round pick to the B.C. Lions on Wednesday.
In 2015, Simonise had 65 catches for 1,013 yards and 11 TDs in eight games with the University of Calgary, earning All-Canadian honours. But he was ruled academically ineligible for 2016.
The 22-year-old Vancouver native earned a 2016 tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals but received a four-game suspension from the NFL following a positive drug test. The CFL responded by deferring Simonise’s draft status from 2017 to this year.
Over the last two seasons, Simonise played with the Okanagan Sun of the Canadian Junior Football League as well as the Chicago Eagles of the Champions Indoor Football League. Simonise was hopeful he’d be drafted Thursday but had prepared himself if there’d been no interest.
“I really didn’t know so I had to prepare for both sides of the spectrum,” Simonise said during a conference call Friday. “The past two years I’ve had really no kind of direction so I’ve just been going into everything blind.
“I realize this is almost a second chance and this time around I’m going to do it the right way and put all my efforts into it. I’m fortunate and blessed for this opportunity they’ve given to me . . . I’m very very hungry.”
GM Kyle Walters said the Bombers spoke with Simonise at the CFL combine in March but it was head coach Mike O’Shea’s discussion with an Okanagan Sun coach that sold Winnipeg on the lanky receiver.
“He was adamant Rashaun Simonise is a good kid, he just needed some maturity . . . a strong group around him that he can learn from,” Walters said. “After that conversation, I said, ‘Well, that’s what we have here.’
“Darvin Adams, Adarius Bowman, Weston Dressler, Andrew Harris, Matt Nichols, we’ve got a group on that offence and in that locker room where I think for a young man that needs some mentoring and maturing, we’ll be able to provide that for him.”
Walters, in his sixth year as Winnipeg’s GM, admitted he might’ve looked differently at Simonise earlier in his tenure.
“In the past we might’ve erred on, ‘Well, we can’t have any sort of character issues, we’ll go with the safer pick,”’ Walters said. “If the reports were he’s a bad kid, he’s always in trouble. he shows up late for practice and is a bad teammate then I don’t think we would’ve taken him.
“But the feedback is he just needs to grow up but he’s a good teammate and a hard worker. He just needs to be surrounded by the right people and I think he’s going to blossom.”
Just how good can Simonise be is “up to him and us,” Walters said. “Physically he’s different.
“When they showed the cutup of him catching a slant pass with a Bengals uniform running by the Baltimore Ravens, I said, ‘You don’t see that too often on a Canadian draft pick’s cutup.’ He’s just so talented. If we can get him back to that level, get him back committed to football in this building training, looking after his body, committing to football fulltime I think his ceiling is very high.”
Simonise, who has openly discussed his previous transgressions, said he’s a changed man.
“I’ve grown up a lot, my maturity level has risen a lot,” he said.
“I’ve been through a lot of experiences and learned in situations that have helped me develop physically and mentally. I’m just glad the time is finally up and I’m able to get back on the football field again.”
Simonise cracked Calgary’s lineup as a freshman and captured Canada West’s top rookie honour in 2013. He’ll be just another first-year player trying to adjust to pro football during Winnipeg’s training camp but Simonise believes he can contribute to the Bombers’ attack in 2018.
“I feel like I’m going to be a rookie coming in and will have something to prove,” he said. “I want to be a guy who can come in right away and make plays.”
But Simonise understands he’s far from being a finished product.
“I definitely have to get out of my breaks a lot faster and sync into my routes when I’m going into my breaks as well,” he said. “I also have to play more physical . . . being more physical is something I’m going to have to work on as well.”