It’s time for a story.
With free agency still a long way off, I thought I would share one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It’s one of those “only in the CFL” stories that everyone seems to have after engaging with this crazy league for awhile. It even has a twist ending.
It was January 4, 2014.
I was entering my final semester at Brandon University. My post-holiday waistline prompted me to visit the school’s new Healthy Living Centre — a state-of-the-art fitness facility that had opened the year prior.
I was jogging around the track in the building’s southwest corner, clumsily shuffling one foot in front of the other. The track — located on the facility’s second floor — was open in the centre to reveal a spectacular view of the Bobcats’ home court.
Jordan Reaves, now a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was then a star player on the men’s basketball team. Brandon doesn’t have a football program, so I never imagined that an alumnus from my school would one day play in the CFL.
I had my headphones on while completing my (very) slow laps around the track, listening to the NFC Wildcard game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. I don’t remember exactly how the game was going — a quick google search reveals New Orleans would win 26-24 — but I recall the Saints were doing a nice job of containing star Eagles’ tailback LeSean McCoy.
I soon noticed two large men working out just beyond the north side of the track. The leaner of the two — probably six-foot-two and 240 pounds — was doing sprints while the other looked on.
Those two look like football players, I remember thinking. But that didn’t make sense.
I knew the two men didn’t play for the Bombers — I’d have recognized them — and neither resembled Chris Bauman or Landon Rice, the only Brandon-born CFL players of whom I was aware.
I dismissed the thought and continued my lumbering laps around the track.
Minutes later the larger of the two men — probably six-foot-three and 315 pounds — was practicing a kick-step, breaking out of a two-point stance the way an offensive tackle would for pass protection.
These were football players. Both of them.
I waited for an opportunity to introduce myself, eventually speaking with the larger of the two men.
“Hi, I’m John,” I said.
“Hi, I’m Johan,” he answered.
I felt bad about interrupting his workout, but Johan seemed excited to talk football. We ended up chatting for at least ten minutes.
Johan had played for the Chicago Bears for three seasons after graduating from UNLV in 2009. He’d never intended to play professional football, planning instead on becoming a sheriff.
The Bears saw him as the future anchor of their offensive line, an heir apparent to six-time Pro Bowl centre Olin Kreutz. He quickly found an agent after graduation — he didn’t have one through his senior season or the NFL draft — and signed with the team.
The fact that Johan was exercising at the Brandon University Healthy Living Centre on a cold January night was strong evidence that he hadn’t lived up to Chicago’s sky-high expectations.
Instead, Johan had recently spent time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2012) and B.C. Lions (2013). He and his friend Dave, the other player working out at the facility, had recently signed contracts to play for the expansion L.A. KISS of the Arena Football League.
The pair met while playing for the Riders and had remained friends since. Johan and Dave were living in Brandon while working in the oil industry in Virden, Manitoba (located approximately 75 kilometres west of the city) until KISS training camp was slated to begin in March.
It was a pleasant conversation and I was thankful for the opportunity to have engaged with a professional football player by such bizarre happenstance.
I performed a google search on Johan after returning home and learned that his full name was Johan Asiata. There weren’t many results — a few photos of him practicing with the Bears and a handful of articles written about him during his time in the NFL.
The search I performed on Asiata’s friend, however, yielded a large number of results.
David Veikune — the shy fellow I’d known only as ‘Dave’ moments ago — had been a second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2009. The Hawaii product had jumped up NFL draft boards following a senior season during which he’d recorded 73 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and nine sacks.
Veikune, like many of Cleveland’s draft picks over the years, failed to live up to expectations in the NFL. The defensive end appeared in ten games as a rookie but did not register a statistic in any of them.
Released following his first season, Veikune signed with Denver in 2010 and registered five tackles in four games. The Broncos released him the following August.
That brought Veikune to the CFL where he signed what was essentially a futures contract with Saskatchewan in November of 2011. Appearing in nine games in 2012, Veikune recorded seven tackles and three sacks before being released the following May.
It was a classic case of injuries and unfortunate circumstances sinking what otherwise could have been a decent professional career. Veikune tore his MCL with the Browns and later suffered a high ankle sprain with the Riders.
It also didn’t help that the teams Veikune played for were lousy — particularly the Browns and Broncos. Poor on-field results elicit changes in personnel and coaching departments, which can inhibit the development of young players.
Being the draft nerd that I am, I opened the 2009 NFL draft page on Wikipedia to see which players the Browns had passed on when they selected Veikune 52nd overall.
There were a lot of good ones.
Tackle Sebastian Vollmer (58th overall) protected Tom Brady for eight years, cornerback Sean Smith (61st) would start 122 games over nine seasons, and Mike Wallace (84th) retired with over 8,000 career receiving yards.
The number of notable names decreased as the I scrolled down the list, but several active NFL players were picked in the draft’s mid-to-late rounds. There were also a number of prominent CFL names, including tackle Xavier Fulton (155th), defensive back Macho Harris (157th), and defensive back Joe Burnett (168th).
One name, however, stood out above all the others.
Drafted 53rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles — one spot behind David Veikune — was Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy.
The star player whose playoff game I’d been listening to on the radio was drafted immediately after the person who’d been at the gym mere steps from me.
I was floored. It was such a surreal moment.
It was like running into Michelle Williams while listening to Beyoncé on Spotify — strange, fortuitous, and deliciously ironic.
That’s where I thought this story would end.
But the story doesn’t end here. There’s more. And it gets even weirder.
I followed Asiata’s career closely after our meeting, looking him up online regularly. When his career ended, I stopped googling his name… until recently.
It turns out that Asiata was arrested on November 30, 2016 for allegedly abusing the residents of a youth detention facility.
Asiata was one of four people arrested in the alleged scandal centered upon the creation of what some called a “teen fight club.” He faced nine felony charges. The alleged ringleader, Michael M. Klimek, faced 76 felonies upon his arrest.
The same person who had told me he hoped to one day become a sheriff had been accused of doing terrible thing to minors. That was upsetting.
I wish I knew the conclusion of Asiata’s legal troubles. Did he face a trial? Did he do jail time? If so, is he still there?
The internet has virtually no information on Asiata since his arrest three years ago. So, while this story isn’t done, that’s all I’ve got at the moment.
But what a story it is — and one I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share with our audience on 3DownNation.