Talks with Hawks: Episode 17 – Ken Evraire

In the summer of 2019, I was down in the basement of the football house that the Laurier coaching staff proudly calls home.  Down there was a large collection of football pictures and some other WLU football memorabilia.  I thought it would be a good idea to reunite some of that stuff with their rightful owners.  One guy I managed to contact was Ken Evraire.  He was living in Ottawa, and I knew that we had a road game against the Gee Gees so I got ahold of him and invited him to join us on the sideline for that game and I was able to give him a couple of  framed photographs.  Ken was a star Wide Receiver for Laurier from 1985 to 1987.  He was the 1985 OUA Rookie of the Year, a team MVP and President’s Award winner at Laurier in 1986, a CIS 1st team All Canadian in 1986 & 1987, a 3 time OUA 1st team All Star, and a Laurier Hall of Fame inductee in 1993.  After that, he played in the CFL from 1988 to 1997.  I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Ken.  During our 40 minute chat, he had me laughing out loud at least a dozen times.

Dave Morrissey:  Why did you choose to come to Laurier?

Ken Evraire: I am from the Ottawa area and I was playing football there. I was the youngest player (age 16) on the Ottawa Sooners Junior team.  We had players as old as 21.  We lost in the national championship game to Edmonton.  Earlier in the year, we played in London against the Beefeaters and we watched an OUA game that featured Guelph vs Western. Guelph had a couple of great receivers, Scott Leckie and Perry Ceci, who had previously been to a Sooners camp.  I knew I wanted to keep playing football but I also wanted to get an education.  So, in my grade 13 year, I moved to Toronto to live with my sister. I loved living in Toronto.  I played at Northern and I was heavily recruited by Tom Arnott (and by a lot of other teams too).  Our recruiting class was stacked with amazing players like Rohan Dove, Mike Choma, and Jon Graffi.  Laurier was going in a new direction with their offence.  Previously, they had been a run option team under Tuffy Knight, but Rich Newbrough was going to open things up more in the passing game.  Joe Nastasiuk is another guy who never gets enough credit.  I wouldn’t have the success I had without Joe. Teams were hesitant to doublecover me because they knew if they did, Joe would kill them. He was an incredible receiver. I feel that Joe should have been an All Canadian instead of me. (Editor’s note: In 1988, Joe did in fact earn 2nd team All Canadian status!) He missed the last game of the year to attend his brother’s wedding.  Had he not missed the game, he would’ve had better stats than me. A couple of years later, I actually sent him the All Canadian ring they gave me.

(DM): What was your most memorable game at Laurier?

(KE): The game that stands out for me as the most memorable was a Yates Cup loss to Western.  Blake Marshall scored a touchdown in the last minute to beat us.

(DM): In 1987, I was a freshman at WLU. I remember very well many details of the national semifinal game that Laurier played out west vs UBC.  Laurier lost 33 to 31. Tell me about your recollections of the game.

(KE) Well, I didn’t play in it.  I broke my leg the last game of the regular season.  I missed the playoffs.  I did accompany the team out west.  I am still kind of haunted by the fact that I never got to play in that game.

(DM): Who was your most memorable teammate at Laurier and why?

(KE): It would probably be Jon Graffi.  For one thing, he was easy to make laugh.  You can tell that I like to joke around a lot. Jon had these monster legs.  I think the gym in St. Catharines where he was from only had one piece of equipment: a squat rack.  As well, his mom would bring these huge care packages to him in Waterloo with tons of food.  Jon would always give me the food he wouldn’t eat. My dad would visit me, but he would only bring beer money!  He wanted to party with all the football players.  He was a former pro athlete who played baseball with Pete Rose.  I recall leaving my dad at many parties where he’d still be drinking with the D-Line.

(DM): In 1988, you were the 1st pick in the 2nd round of the CFL draft.  You were selected by Saskatchewan, yet you never played for them.  What happened?

(KE): I remember the CFL draft event in Hamilton well.  The night before the draft I remember going out drinking with a number of other guys who were scheduled to be picked high in the draft.  One of us actually called up Cal Murphy, the GM of Winnipeg, and told him not to draft us (because the team was so notoriously cheap).  Anyway, at the draft event, I really wanted to go up on stage.  Only guys who were picked in the 1st round always got to do that.  Well, I went 1st overall in the second round, but I still wanted to go up on stage, so I just went up there!  They actually had to look for a jersey to hold up in front of me.  Bill Baker, the general manager, came up to me and said, “Welcome to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  You are going to be a free safety.”  I hadn’t been in contact with the Roughriders at all before the draft.  I had no idea they planned to draft me, and I certainly didn’t expect to be turned into a defensive back.  In training camp, let’s just say the defensive coaches at Saskatchewan weren’t too impressed with my defensive abilities. I did realize at that point that I had so much to learn in terms of improving my football knowledge.  Before playing in the CFL, I got by mainly on skill.  Right before the season started, I had a slight shoulder injury.  The team wanted to stash me on the injured reserve list. But I wanted to play.  So, soon after, my agent negotiated a trade to Ottawa.  On one hand, it was great to be playing football back in my home town, but on the other hand, the Ottawa team had been horrible for many years.  They still were in my rookie year.  We went 2-16.

(DM): You had a long CFL career with 2 stops each in Hamilton and Ottawa, yet you never got to even play in a Grey Cup.  How much did that bother you as a player and does it still bother you now?

(KE): I wanted to win, but I was never obsessed with it.  I had lost a national championship with the Sooners, I had lost a Yates Cup to Western, and I had lost an Eastern Conference final to Winnipeg, and I saw guys who were so totally distraught after a loss.  I was never that type of guy.  During my entire career, I always partied like a Grey Cup champion.  I have many great memories and no regrets.

(DM): I read an old interview that you did with an Ottawa reporter about that Ottawa team in your rookie season.   Tell me the story about the punter Tommy Dixon and the quarterback Todd Dillon.

(KE): (Laughing) Poor Tommy, oh boy, Tommy was also managing a Burger King at the time. Before practices, many of the players like to pretend they were the punter.  Even I had punted at Laurier.  Job security in the CFL was always non- existent, and when I would start punting, you could see Tommy just shaking. Like a lot of guys on the team that year, Tommy wasn’t having a great season.  He shanked a number of punts.  So one day in practice, our QB Todd Dillon brings out this duck whistle and starts blowing it after a number of bad punts.  Tommy was a great teammate, and he later did go on to have great success in Edmonton.

(DM): In my research for this interview, it was interesting to learn that one of your teammates at Ottawa was our former O-Line coach Irv Daymond.  Is there a better story teller in the entire world than Irv?

(KE): No, there certainly is not!  Irv tells the best stories, but the problem is, it takes him three times longer to tell a story than it really should take!  We used to play against each other in the OUA.  He was a stud O-Lineman at Western.  He also stood out because it looked like he was wearing hockey shoulder pads and 7 neck rolls. He used to scream out to me sometimes, “Hey EvrairA, Hey EvrairA”.  For some reason, he would always add an ‘A’ to the end of my name.  So I started calling him ‘Beaker’, you know that Muppet character right?  We are great friends. He was such a character.  I loved being his teammate.  Without a doubt, he’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met.

(DM): When you were at Ottawa, another former WLU football legend, Jim Reid was just about winding down his CFL career.  Tell me a bit about playing with him.

(KE): Well, being from the Ottawa area, I had watched him play many times.  However, it wasn’t until I got to Laurier, that I became aware of just how incredible his WLU football career was.  Jim was the oldest guy on the team when I started my CFL career, and I will always remember him being the 1st athlete I ever saw smoke a cigarette on the sidelines (at half time).  He was very competitive and he wanted to win badly.  Too many of the guys on that 1988 team didn’t have the same work ethic or will to win as Jim.  They spent more of their time in Hull, Quebec than in Ottawa!  The nightlife was more important to them than football.

(DM): It was also interesting to read that you played one season with a notorious American QB Art Schlichter.  He was an All American QB at Ohio State but then he went on to have horrible gambling problems the rest of his life and he has been in & out of prison many times.  I loved watching Schlichter play in university.  Tell me a bit about playing with him.

(KE): (Laughing) Good ole Art wanted to borrow $1000 off me within 48 hours of knowing me!  I was showering beside the guy after practice one day and right there, he asks me for money!  Thank God for Sports Illustrated magazine.  By the team he got to Ottawa, he had already washed out of the NFL and his gambling problems were well known.  He was dating one of the Ottawa cheerleaders at the time.  She thought it was love, but we all knew the real reason was because her dad was a bank manager!

(DM): Speaking of addiction, I read an article about you where you talked about your 5 knee surgeries during your career.  Did you ever become too reliant on painkillers?

(KE): No, not really. It was hard continuing to play football with all those injuries.  To be honest, for a long time I was afraid NOT to play.  I was scared about what my life would be without football.  I loved football.  To get paid to play a game you love in front of thousands of fans is an amazing experience.  So much of my identity was attached to being a pro football player.  It was hard to let go of that.

(DM): Why did you choose to donate your brain after you die?  How many concussions did you have?

(KE): I know I got knocked out at least 3 times. After my playing career ended, I had seen some of my former teammates’ lives become significantly unsettled due to the concussion issues that they experienced in their playing days.  So, I decided it was just something I wanted to do.  Of course, you know what the running joke is: Hey Evraire, they are going to take your brain and find absolutely nothing inside it!  In all seriousness, I have kept my oldest son out of tackle football so far.  He is in grade 6. I want him to wait at least until he physically matures.

(DM): Tell me about Ken Evraire Team Building, Leadership, & Coaching

(KE):  Well, after my career ended, I was in broadcasting for eleven years here in Ottawa doing sports, asking players the same questions over and over again.  A number of people in my industry got laid off one year, and I was one of them.  After that, I knew I didn’t want to do a 9 to 5 job and I knew I wanted to be able to have the freedom to be actively engaged in my children’s lives.  I learned that lesson from my parents.  We didn’t have much growing up, but my parents were always great when it came to being present in our lives, taking us swimming, stuff like that.  They never missed any of my games.  So, I created my business that allows me to take the things that I learned from being in sports, and make a living doing that. I set people up for success.

(DM): You came to fatherhood somewhat later in life.  What’s it like raising 3 kids who are entering grades 4, 5, and 6?

(KE): I love it!  I am a child at heart.  It has become the most valuable chapter of my life. I certainly loved playing pro football.  It fed my ego.  But all my football experiences pale in comparison to being a dad.

(DM): I can certainly identify with that.  My daughter is 21 now, but I vividly recall from about age 2 to her early teens, constantly taking her to Canada’s Wonderland, African Lion Safari, waterparks, watching her play soccer and sometimes even coaching her teams.  Those memories are priceless!  And many of those things, I can’t do anymore.  I miss those experiences so much. It’s not socially acceptable for a 52 year old guy to go to a waterpark by himself!  I envy you that you are able to be able to currently experience so many of those wonderful childhood activities.

(KE): Raising my kids will be the last significant chapter of my life.  I am very aware the clock is ticking, and I want to fill it up their lives and my life with as many happy memories as I can.

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