November 11, 2017

The Kids Are Alright | REDBLACKS roster youngest in CFL

Jake Ceresna BC Lions vs Ottawa REDBLACKS August 26, 2017 PHOTO: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography

The kids are alright.

Or maybe even better than just alright, at least in Ottawa, where the playoff-bound REDBLACKS are tied for the lowest average age in the nine-team CFL.

With a team average of just 27.1 years (as of Week 20), the REDBLACKS and Hamilton Tiger-Cats just edged out the Toronto Argonauts (27.2) for the honour of being the league’s youngest team. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, the Montreal Alouettes are the oldest team, with an average age of 28.3 years at the end of the season.

Despite that youth, the REDBLACKS have battled their way to a third-straight playoff appearance in 2017, just barely missing out on a third-straight East Division title. It may seem thing like a small thing, but being young and having success is something the club takes pride in.

“We’ve moved on from a number of older players because we felt we had younger guys who could step in and get the job done,” said REDBLACKS General Manager Marcel Desjardins. “When you can get a younger player not only ready to play at this level but to actually go out there and have an impact, that’s something we take pride in.”

While the REDBLACKS have a veteran core that has been around, led by 1980s-born players like quarterback Trevor Harris, offensive linemen SirVincent Rogers and Jon Gott, receivers Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson and defensive back Jerrell Gavins, they have gotten contributions throughout the lineup from the 90’s crew. This season, for instance, saw the emergence of young talent like rookie Evan Johnson, 23, on the offensive line, playing alongside young veteran players like Alex Mateas, and sophomore Jason Lauzon-Seguin, both 26.

Defensive back Corey Tindal, 26, became a regular in the starting lineup while receivers like Jake Harty, 26, took advantage of injuries and made people take notice. A guy like defensive back Sherrod Baltimore, at 25, was noticed at an open tryout, cracked the team out of camp and finished his first campaign with 47 tackles.

Sherrod Baltimore celebrating. Photo | Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Phtography/Ottawa REDBLACKS

In several cases this season, younger players have been forced to step into bigger roles due to injuries to starters, no more so than Evan Johnson, who played more in his rookie season than anticipated due to injuries to Gott and Rogers. Same story elsewhere in the lineup, as injuries to veterans like Kenny Shaw, Connor Williams and Gavins have paved the way for young guys to get a taste – and often much more than a taste – of the action.

Defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, for example, came into the year expecting a backup role, only to end up starting 14 games – finishing with 18 tackles, two sacks, 11 QB pressures and 4pass knockdowns – because of the injury to Williams.

“You want to compete like you’re going to be a starter and so when Connor went down I felt ready to step in there,” said the 23-year-old Ceresna. “I feel like I’ve developed a lot as a football player this year. It’s good as a rookie when you can get in there and play.”

Ceresna said he’s been impressed at the makeup of the room – a good mix of rookies, young guys with some experience in the league and veterans. But he said there’s definitely a sense of pride in being the youngest squad and making the playoffs.

“I think that definitely says something because we had a lot of guys that had to come in here and step up and make big plays,” Ceresna said.

Jake Ceresna in warmups. Photo | Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa REDBLACKS

Not only are the REDBLACKS younger than the competition, they also have less overall experience. The average number of games started per Ottawa player was pegged at 19.3 games at the end of the regular season. The REDBLACKS are 28.8 % more inexperienced than the league average of 26.7 games.

When it comes to the cumulative numbers of games played for an entire team, Ottawa’s 2,429 is 18% less than the average of 2,928 games played for teams across the CFL.

All that math goes to underline how impressive it is that the league’s two youngest teams – Ottawa and Toronto – could end up battling to determine who comes out of the East, depending on the outcome of this weekend’s semi-final at TD Place.

Here’s how the CFL teams rank in terms of average age, from youngest to oldest, as of the end of the 2017 regular season:

  • OTTAWA – 27.1
  • HAMILTON – 27.1
  • TORONTO – 27.2
  • CALGARY – 27.3
  • WINNIPEG – 27.6
  • BC – 27.8
  • EDMONTON – 28.0
  • MONTREAL – 28.3