July 4, 2017

“The French Connection” Goes Home

Anyone that has spent time living in another country, province or city knows how special it is to go home. It is hard to be away from loved ones and nothing compares to the feeling of the joy you get being reunited with them. The BC Lions have five French Canadians on their roster, four of which are University of Montreal grads, and you can be sure they are all excited for the chance to go home and battle the Montreal Alouettes this Thursday.

For every road game, each player is allotted two tickets to give to friends and family. At this very moment, “The French Connection”, as the five guys are known around the locker room, are doing some last minute bartering with teammates to scrounge up a few extra tickets.

David Menard has been nothing but positive for the Leos ever since they selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 CFL draft. The University of Montreal product has vastly outplayed his draft position, recording 29 defensive tackles, 11 sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles across 54 career games. He is a quality special teamer for BC with the ability to also contribute at defensive tackle and defensive end.

An injury forced the Chicoutimi, PQ native to miss out on his opportunity to play in front of a Quebec crowd in 2016, making this Thursday’s battle with the Alouettes even more meaningful for the veteran defensive lineman. “I’ve got like 14 tickets so far and I am still trying to get more,” said Menard on going back to Montreal. “I have a lot of friends coming from my hometown. I went to school in Montreal and I love Montreal, but it’s special to know my friends from back home will be in the stands.”

Now in his fourth season with the Lions, the 26-year-old has established himself as a leader on the defensive line. “We call Menard, the clinic tape guy,” said Lions’ defensive coordinator Mark Washington. “Everything he does is perfect, his technique is flawless. He makes mistakes, but man, he is technically sound. He is consistent, he’s solid and he makes plays. He is what you need in a football player.”

Charles Vaillancourt was born in the small town of Coaticook, PQ and spent his college years wandering the historic halls of Laval University in Quebec City. Charlie V excelled on the field for the Rouge et Or en route to being selected by the Lions in the first round of the 2016 CFL Draft. He has already dressed in 15 games in his brief CFL career and serves as the swingman on the Leos’ offensive line, backing up multiple positions. He spent Tuesday’s practice in Kingston, ON taking first team reps at right guard, ahead of Kirby Fabien.

Understandably, the 24-year-old offensive lineman is excited to be heading back to his home province. “It’s my first time going home to play, last year I didn’t get to go to Montreal so I am very excited, that’s for sure,” said Vaillancourt on going back to his home province this week. “I have a lot of supporters back home and I have been doing a few trades this week with my teammates to get some extra tickets.”

The Lions ushered in a new era on their offensive line this offseason when they sent perennial All-Star Jovan Olafioye to the Montreal Alouettes in exchange for David Foucault. The gargantuan offensive lineman spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers before deciding to take his talents home to Canada. Foucault has started each of his first two CFL contests at left guard and he is quickly establishing a reputation as one of the Lions more efficient linemen.

The former University of Montreal Carabin hasn’t played a down of football in his hometown since 2013 and he is eager to push some bodies around in front of his loved ones this week. “It will be nice to see my family and friends,” said Foucault on the Lions upcoming visit to Montreal. “Just to compete with the team that drafted me is going to be fun I think. It’s going to be a fun night.”

The Lions added two more Carabins to their roster this past May in the CFL Draft, selecting Junior Luke in the first round and Frederic Chagnon in the third round. Luke impressed the Lions’ coaches early and often in training camp. He was consistently able to get pressure on the quarterback and did a fine job clogging up running lanes in practice. The 25-year-old defensive lineman has proven to be as intelligent as he is athletic. The bulk of his work has come on special teams through his first two games, but not many 300 pounders possess quick feet like Junior and he figures to play a larger role with the Lions as the season progresses.

Junior is excited at the prospect of being back in his hometown this week. “It feels good. It’s been a couple months, so it will be good to go back to Montreal and see my mom and a couple of my friends. It has been hard to be so far away, but it is good to have guys like Menard and Chagnon here, guys that I know from college. It’s going to be lots of fun.”

Chagnon, or Shaggy as he is affectionately referred to by his teammates, is a big bodied linebacker that isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body for the betterment of team. He has special teams ace written all over him, but he has also showed the ability to play on defence during the preseason. Shaggy’s highlight as a pro came during the Lions’ season opener against the Edmonton Eskimos, when he demolished LaDarius Perkins on a punt return.

Just like Luke, Chagnon is born and raised in Montreal and he is excited for the opportunity to play in front of loved ones. “We haven’t seen our families for a couple months now, so it will be nice to go and play in front of them,” said the hard hitting linebacker on the opportunity to play against the Alouettes this week. “I have around 20 people coming to the game, my ex-teammates, my family, my girlfriend and family friends. I am looking forward to it.”

Mark Washington has been blown away by the quick progression of Luke and Chagnon. “Those two guys in particular, there is something about the guys that come from Montreal or Laval, they come prepared. They have been taught a lot about football and they almost come a step ahead of the other U SPORT players. Luke and Shaggy have been coached fundamentally, they’re sound, they’re situationally aware and they have been on point since joining the team. I’ve been very impressed with both of them.”

The French players on the roster have been inseparable since the first day of training camp. They get along so well in fact, that they are currently sharing a house together in Vancouver for the season. As Chagnon described it, they “still have our French connection”. All of the Lions are hoping to exit Montreal with a win, but a victory would taste a little sweeter for Menard, Vaillancourt, Foucault, Luke and Chagnon.

Be sure to tune in to TSN on Thursday to watch your BC Lions take on the Montreal Alouettes at 4 pm PT, or set you radio dial to TSN 1040 to listen live to the game. Go Lions!