From the darkness of the Ottawa Redblacks’ current struggles has emerged one shining beacon of hope: the return of DeVonte Dedmon.
After being released by the Miami Dolphins following their first preseason game, the electric return specialist made a furious 23-hour cross-border drive to link back up with the CFL franchise that gave him his professional start in 2019.
With the Redblacks sitting at 1-8 and once again mired in a losing season, most players would struggle to see the bright side in having to honour a contract with the team — especially after seeing their NFL opportunity suddenly come to an end.
Dedmon is not most players.
“It’s home,” the 26-year-old speedster told TSN 1200’s The Drive this week, making no effort to hide his unbridled enthusiasm for returning to Ottawa.
“They gave me a chance out of college; no one else gave me a chance. They believed in me, believed in my abilities from day one. They put me in 79, I didn’t know what was going on, I knew nothing about this league but they gave me a chance. That’s all I can be thankful for the rest of my life, that Ottawa gave me a chance.”
Dedmon had a standout rookie campaign in 2019 but truly broke out with the Redblacks during the 2021 season. He totalled 2,841 return yards, and with three touchdowns, became the fastest player in CFL history to record five return touchdowns in his career.
For his efforts, Dedmon was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, along with earning CFL All-Star honours.
He is scheduled to make his season debut on Saturday in Edmonton and could provide a spark that the ailing franchise desperately needs. The returner himself will get his own spark from the resilient fan base back in Ottawa.
“I love this city. I love R-Nation. It gives me so much confidence, every time I’m on the field I get a little scream. It’s crazy,” Dedmon explained.
“As players, you accept that they’ll only know you as a player on the field. Well here in Ottawa, they know you as more than players, they know you as the guys off the field. I appreciate that more than anything. You stop and say, hey, how you doing, just checking on us. That means a lot. You never know what people are going through in this world, so just those little things matter.”
Amid three straight losing seasons, that support and compassion have yet to fade. However, patience is wearing thin with the R-Nation and fingers have begun to point at head coach Paul LaPolice for the team’s offensive struggles. The one area in which the team hasn’t wavered is special teams, where a veteran corps and coordinator Bob Dyce have not missed a step without their electric returner
Now that he’s back in the fold, Dedmon’s trust in Dyce remains unconditional.
“Coach Dyce makes me want to run through a wall, to be honest. Every time I catch the ball, catch a kick, I want to run through a wall for him because he’s more than just a coach; he’s like a father to me,” he shared. “I have a great father at home but Coach Dyce is my father here and he does so much for me. Even when I was down, in 2019 when I got cut, I’m getting texts from him. From that day, I knew this was a real dude.”
“Like I said, I’d run through the wall for him and I know there are plenty of other guys in our locker room that would do anything for him. If they got the opportunity, they’re gonna do it.”
Dedmon has tuned in religiously to every game in 2022 and believes the rest of the team can be turned around quickly. While fans believe the formula for that should include a heavier dose of the William & Mary product on offence, he will make no such demands.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team. I’ll do whatever it takes to help my guys. My coaches will put me in a position and I’ll do it,” Dedmon said. “I just want to play ball. At the end of the day, I’ve done this all my life and I love it.”
The extent of his role will be revealed on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium but Dedmon’s unfailing optimism off the field may be his most important contribution. With nine games left in what feels like another lost campaign, his message to fans and teammates is genuine in a way that few can be facing such long odds.
“Don’t quit on us. This is our city — our city,” Dedmon stressed. “This is no time to get down on each other. We’re going to try to turn things around day by day, brick by brick. We’re going to build and try to get better. I’m excited to get going and everyone knows it.”