Laurier Football scout Dave Morrissey has spent his time in quarantine reaching out to former Hawks who played on Yates or Vanier Cup championship teams, and/or later became professional players. The result was a series of interviews with notable Laurier football alumni, which Dave was kind enough to share with us. Today’s interview features a defensive back who played with the Golden Hawks from 2011-2014, Chris Ackie. A feature in the WLU defence from day 1, Ackie was named Rookie of the Year in 2011. He continued to impress throughout his OUA career, being named a 2nd team OUA All Star in his third season, and a 1st team All Canadian in his Senior year. In the spring of 2015, he was drafted 4th overall in the CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes.
(Dave Morrissey): I know you were highly recruited by a number of schools. What made you choose Laurier?
(Chris Ackie): When I was 13, I went to a WLU football camp. Coach Jefferies was there, so too were Jesse Alexander and Ryan Pyear. It was such a great experience. They treated me very well. It was like a family experience and I learned a lot. WLU has such a great history of defenders and I wanted to be a part of that.
(DM): You played under two different head coaches, Gary Jefferies and Michael Faulds. Can you compare the two?
(CA): I was very fortunate to play under both of them. Both are great coaches and are unique in their own ways. But they both were very passionate and personable. Despite their age differences, they were both very able to connect with players and make you feel like family.
(DM): As a rookie at WLU, what players did you look to for guidance? Did any players go out of their way to help you learn the ropes?
(CA): In my rookie year, we had a lot of great veterans with great leadership qualities that not only taught us how to act on the field, but off it as well. One guy that stuck out for me was Luke Thompson. He was a former QB but now he was playing safety, which was the same position as me. It was great to be able to talk to him about football, learning my position, etc. I was initially his backup, but then when I became the starter, he was still there for me helping me learn my responsibilities. He was the ultimate team player. There were some other guys that I really looked up to as well like Shamawd Chambers, Anton Bennett, and Mitchell Bosch. They were all amazing players.
(DM): You were selected 4th overall in the 2015 CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes. What was life like living and playing in the city of Montreal?
(CA): It was a blessing to play there. It was where I got to start my football dreams. It is such a fun city with a lot of culture, lots of great restaurants, great sites to see, etc. I have a lot of love for that city and the fans. I can’t wait to get back on the field this year and play against them back in Montreal. I got to learn from a lot of great vets. In my rookie year, Anthony Calvillo was on the coaching staff, CFL vets like Chip Cox, Tyrell Sutton, Winston Venable. They taught me a lot about how to be a pro. The biggest shock was adjusting to the speed of the game.
(DM): What would you say was your most memorable play or game as a WLU player?
CA: I had a lot of great moments at Laurier, but mainly when I think back, I don’t focus on individual accomplishments or specific plays that I made. I think about the atmosphere at Homecoming games. In my rookie year and in my senior year, we had two huge wins. In 2011, we beat Ottawa 51 to 16. In 2014, we beat Carleton 53 to 3. I can’t pinpoint any individual performances.
(DM): For the 2nd week in a row, we see how selfless our players are when I ask them about their best play or their best memory. I remember those games though. The 2011 win vs. Ottawa, the highlight for me that game was seeing former WLU player Andy Baechler come from behind the endzone onto the field to congratulate current WLU WR Shamawd Chambers after a touchdown. In the 2014 Carleton game, the highlight for me was a fake punt long run by Ronnie Pfeffer. That dude had wheels!
In the offseason, you signed with the Toronto Argos. The Argos have a boatload of former Hawks (Robbie Smith, Kurleigh Gittens Jr, Samuel Acheampong) and a couple of other Hawks recently played there (Nakas Onyeka and Ronnie Pfeffer). Tell me a bit about how you became an Argo.
(CA): Contract negotiations with Montreal were going on for a while. We came close to reaching an agreement a couple of times, but we just couldn’t get it done. They had a new G.M. and they had some financial constraints. I know my football career will only last so long. I knew they wanted me to take a ‘team-friendly’ deal. When the Free Agency period opened up, I started talking to a few teams, but mainly Toronto. Once we started talking, we got a deal done pretty quickly.
(DM): I know you have done a lot in terms of working with youth in football. Tell me how you got started with that and why it is important to you.
(CA): Impulse Football is something I started after my first year in the CFL. This is our 4th year running the program. I want to give back to the community. Growing up, I didn’t have many camps to go to. Playing for Team Ontario or Team Canada wasn’t an option for me because of the high costs of trying out and being on those teams. After the combine before the CFL Draft, I realized that I was going to become a pro and I knew right then I wanted to come back and start a camp to give back to the youth in the Cambridge area. We also had a Charity Camp for a group called 519 Pursuit in London that helps the homeless. This year, we donated to the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
(DM): Can you offer your perspective as a young black male in terms of the experiences you have had to endure?
(CA): I could probably go on for hours. I have been through a bunch of experiences. Most of them were not necessarily ‘in your face’ situations with people saying derogatory terms to me, but in more subtle ways. With what is going on in society now, people need to know that this isn’t a new thing. This has been going on for far too long. It is nice that people seem to be finally becoming more aware.
(DM): Just as society seems to be often unfortunately divided based on race, I wonder if there is a similar divide in CFL locker rooms, but in terms of nationality.
(CA): Yes, I would agree. With the Americans, you have to gain their respect on the field. With some of them, they will simply assume that because you are Canadian, that you can’t play football. You have to show them that you can play at their level. You have to prove to them that they only thing that is different about you is your passport. It gets better as your experience on the team grows. But during games when you are on the field, it is all one team.
(DM): Okay, I need to know your top 3 get hyped songs before a game.
(CA): That’s really tough to pick just 3. Number 1 would go back to my Laurier Days: Faneto by Chief Keef. The others would be Time I’m On and Make No Sense by YoungBoy.
(DM): Who is your favourite NFL team and player?
(CA): Always the Broncos! My favourite players were Champ Bailey and Ladainian Tomlinson. He’s the reason why I wear #21. I used to play running back a long time ago.
(DM): As a Raiders fan, I have nothing else to say you Mr. Ackie! Thanks for doing this.
Next Episode: Former WLU Defensive Lineman David Montoya