Former Redblacks, Lions defensive end J.R. Tavai unretires to play for ELF’s Helvetic Guards

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Former CFL defensive end J.R. Tavai has come out of retirement to play in the European League of Football.

The 29-year-old sack artist had signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats ahead of the 2022 season but was placed on the retired list before training camp. Tavai has since backtracked on that decision, signing with the Helvetic Guards of Switzerland on Saturday.

The six-foot-two, 269-pound native of Inglewood, California played 31 career CFL games over three seasons with the B.C. Lions and Ottawa Redblacks, totalling 84 tackles, 73 defensive tackles, 10 quarterback sacks, and five forced fumbles. The USC product’s best season came in 2019 as a member of the Redblacks when he notched 50 tackles and eight sacks in 16 starts.

The Guards are a Zurich-based expansion franchise which will commence play during the ELF’s third season. They are coached by legendary USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who was familiar with Tavai after recruiting his younger brother Jahlani, an eventual second-round NFL Draft pick, to play for him while he served as head coach for the University of Hawaii.