When you were a kid, there was nothing more exciting than a sleepover. Begging your parents for permission, eating junk food, staying up late into the night talking — it was an experience that forged deep friendships.
For the Ottawa Redblacks’ special teams unit, that still remains true.
Punter Richie Leone joined The Drive on TSN 1200 in Ottawa Wednesday to talk about the upcoming season and the Georgia native shared that he’s already back across the border, sharing some much-needed bonding time with one important teammate.
“I have returned to the great white north. I actually got here a week ago tomorrow. I’m at the Ward house in Kingston doing my quarantine,” Leone said.
That is, of course, the home of Redblacks kicker Lewis Ward, the other half of one of the league’s best kicking duos.
The pair have been apart for more than a year and Leone is hoping to use the time to revitalize the relationship.
“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come up is to build back that rapport. It’s obviously very important and it’s so great to just sit there and talk ball with Lewis,” Leone explained. “Obviously we have a lot of memories and things to capitalize on such an exciting season on the horizon and to bounce back.”
A three-time CFL all-star punter, Leone opted out of his contract for the 2020 season and spent a week on the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals. The 28-year-old re-signed with the Redblacks in January. He has played 71 career games north of the border, punting 472 times for 22,809 gross yards (48.3 average).
Ward went unselected in the 2017 CFL Draft, but won Most Outstanding Rookie and Most Outstanding Special Teams Player awards in 2018. He also set the single-season league record for field goal percentage making 98.1 percent of his kicks.
The 28-year-old holds the CFL record for consecutive regular season field goals made at 69. Overall, Ward has made 92.2 percent of his three-point attempts, he’s hit on 94-of-102 tries with a long of 56 yards in 36 CFL games.
The pair were hoping to bring their entire special teams unit together ahead of camp, but the league’s quarantine requirements have put a pin in that plan. Still, Leone remains excited for the groups prospects this year.
“I wanted to get up earlier to see if we could all find a way to the same field. Now we have to follow these self-quarantine rules and stuff, so I don’t think we’ll be able to unfortunately,” he explained.
“We’re a close knit group headed up by coach Dyce. I talked to Coach LaPolice throughout the year, and he’s fired up about special teams. He appreciates that aspect of it and certainly keeping coach Dyce at the helm when he took the job was important for him.”
Leone is excited to see what LaPolice can bring to the table in his first year at the helm, but he remains focused on his own responsibilities. That means getting the duo of Leone and Ward off to a fast start by any means necessary, although there is no word as to whether or not bunkbeds are involved.
“We’ve just got to take it one kick at a time. I feel like we have a pretty good plan of how we want to attack it, how we want to start off,” Leone said. “Starting off is important, you want to start off on the right foot, you want to get into a good rhythm, all that stuff. So we’ll just emphasize that and kind of go from there.”