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He is a hard-hitting defensive back with the ability to create the odd turnover. He can break quickly on the ball. Not only is he in great shape, he is pretty handsome too. Yeah, Matt Bucknor bares some resemblance to former Lions great Tommy Europe. And wouldn’t you know it? We were surprised to learn the two are in fact stepbrothers.
“Not too many people know the relation but his biological father (Matthew Europe) married my mother and raised me since I was a baby,” said Bucknor from his home in Ontario last week.
“Technically it’s stepbrother and stepfather but I don’t look at it that way. They have been around since I was a young pup.”
A second round draft choice of the Lions in 1993, Europe did not miss a game for the club in his four seasons on the west coast and was an integral piece of the defence that helped win the 1994 Grey Cup over Baltimore.
He made stops in Winnipeg and Montreal before embarking on his successful post-football professions of fitness guru and television actor. Although it was hard at first, Bucknor quickly realized having Europe to learn from as a youngster would be invaluable.
“I was a little stubborn as a teenager because he was always giving me some pretty good tips and at that age, you kind of think you know everything,” said Bucknor with a laugh.
“Once I really started taking on the advice he was giving me, that’s when I started seeing some major results. When I was in high school he was playing in the league so I always had a chance to go to the games.
When he came to Hamilton or Toronto there was a tradition we had where he brought over a few guys. Over the years I met Robert Drummond, Cory Philpot and a bunch of the DB’s he was close with. It was pretty cool growing up. Even up until now he is always sending me tips on things to do.”
Europe settled in the lower mainland after his retirement and is glad to finally see his stepbrother and protégé adopt the orange as his main colour.
“I was very excited and hopeful he would sign here last year but it didn’t work that way,” said Europe. “He’s in a good situation, the team is looking strong and I am familiar with Mark Washington from playing with him in Montreal. Matt loved the system and the city.”
For a guy who prides himself on hard work, Europe can also be proud of how Bucknor has become a main stay in the league despite being non-drafted out of Windsor before signing with Hamilton in 2012.
“I’m extremely proud of what he has accomplished. He was undrafted and didn’t get an easy way into the league so he had to work at it dedicate time to his craft,” explained Europe.
“I gave him pointers but he definitely put the work in so he deserves to be where he is now.”
The trade of Mike Edem to Saskatchewan and release of Eric Fraser officially signalled the ratio change for this year’s secondary. Assuming Steven Clarke or another import makes the seamless transition to safety, the national contingent could be a factor at either field corner or halfback. This is where the signing of Bucknor in February may come in handy.
“I’m a corner but I can be pretty versatile and play any position. There were a few games where I played at halfback. Whatever the team wants me to do right? I’m going to go out there, show what I can do and leave the decisions up to the coaches.”
The chance to compete for a couple of different spots was no doubt a selling point, as was the chance to win. Bucknor appeared in four games with the Calgary last season before they surprisingly fell short against Ottawa in the 104th Grey Cup. He was also a member of the Hamilton squad that lost to Saskatchewan in 2013, his second year in the league.
“We have a really good defence and an outstanding offence, “said Bucknor of his new squad.
“Ronnie Yell is a pretty solid corner and I respect TJ Lee’s game. I like Loucheiz Purifoy too and also Steven Clarke. It’s a solid group of guys and I am looking forward to working with them and contributing.”
He is extra motivated after talking with his new defensive coordinator about schemes and plans for a defence that knows it needs to create more interceptions in 2017.
“I am a bit of a CFL historian so I am definitely familiar with coach Washington from his playing days and as a coach he has lots of respect around the league.”
But perhaps the best news for Bucknor is the fact his stepbrother no longer has any conflicts on who to cheer for.
“He was thrilled. He always has that BC connection,” said Bucknor of Europe’s reaction to the signing.
“Last year when I was playing with Calgary he told me he wanted me to do well but he couldn’t really root against BC. There was always that conflict of interest. Now he can for sure foot for me, once I make that roster.”
“I couldn’t cheer for him in Hamilton, I definitely couldn’t cheer for Calgary so it’s going to be good,” added Europe with a chuckle.
“It’s going to be an awesome season. He wanted to be in the best situation for him and have the opportunity to compete for a Grey Cup. He definitely accomplished that by signing with the Lions.”
The countdown to Kamloops is on. It will for sure be a boot camp of another variety.
Matt Baker: email@example.com