Keric Wheatfall was giving an interview typical of CFL rookies on Monday, talking about learning the Canadian game, about his road to Winnipeg and the anxiety of being out of the game for nearly a year.

But the receiver’s ears perked up and his eyes lit up when he was asked about the opportunity in front of him with the injury to star Kenny Lawler.

“This is a big opportunity for me,” Wheatfall said after Blue Bombers practice on Monday. “I’m excited for this.”

Asked what his dream CFL debut would look like, the 25-year-old Texan cranked it up another notch.

“Just goin’ out there and goin’ crazy, 200 yards, touchdowns – just ballin’ out for the team,” he said.

It seems Lawler has mentored him well.

Because there is no goal too high for Lawler. After all, he set his sights on 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.

The cast on his broken arm as he watched Monday’s practice from the sidelines shattered that plan.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea confirmed Lawler is dealing with a fracture, meaning he’s headed for the six-game injury list – and meaning Wheatfall’s opportunity is, indeed, large.

As large as the shoes he’ll try to fill.

Monday’s practice saw Wheatfall make some impressive touchdown grabs while getting plenty of reps, an indication he’s likely Lawler’s replacement for Thursday’s game in Ottawa.

One thing he won’t lack is confidence.

“A lot of people would say I’m a deep threat,” Wheatfall said. “But I can run any route in the route tree. I feel like I’m a LeBron on the field. I can block, I can run downfield, I can make the cuts, catch the ball, get up-field, do whatever I need. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to do it at 100 percent.”

At 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, Wheatfall is virtually the same size and build as Lawler.

Since leaving Fresno State University, he had a tryout with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and a three-game stint with Philadelphia of the USFL, where he was trying to make tackles on special teams rather than running pass routes.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he was released and sat at home for nearly a year, training, waiting and trying not to get too stressed.

“Because when you get worried like that, the mental and all those things start to fall off a little bit. My pops always tell me just to stay grinding, stay prayed up, have faith and just keep working. And when opportunity comes, take off with it.”

Eventually the Bombers called and he took off for Winnipeg, outside the U.S. for the first time in his life.

“I love this team,” Wheatfall said. “From all the teams I’ve been on all the different type of leagues, this is probably the closest I’ve got with all the players in a quick amount of time. I love it out here in the CFL. I would love to continue playing out here.”

The Bombers were impressed with Wheatfall in camp, giving him a spot on the practice roster, where he’d have more time to learn.

“He had a great camp,” offensive coordinator Buck Pierce said. “It’s always a big jump coming up to the CFL and learning the nuances of the game. But his physical tools, he’s extremely gifted. And you can see the confidence building with him.”

When Lawler took a helmet on the arm in the Blue Bombers’ season-opening loss to Montreal on Thursday, everything changed for the hopefuls at that position.

“They all of a sudden are presented with an opportunity they might not have realized they’re going to have,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “Maybe that shocks them into a little bit more work. I’m sure they’re all working hard, anyway. They understand they could be called upon at any time. But then it does hit you.”

Wearing No. 88 is Wheatfall’s nod to former Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin, one of his favourites.

His mentor this week has been Lawler.

“Stay level-headed. Stay in the book,” Wheatfall said, repeating Lawler’s advice. “Whatever questions, call him and talk to him. Just play your game. Be relaxed out there. Don’t be all tensed up. You’re a baller – that’s what he kept saying. So I took that, came out on the field, just blurred out everything and just balled out and made plays.”

His expectations for his first game are high, too.

“That’s football, baby. At the end of the day, I’m ready.”


Losing Lawler only adds injury to the insulting play of the Bombers offence last week.

Pierce has a laundry list of improvements he wants to see in Ottawa.

“A lot of things,” he said. “You’ve got to understand if you don’t play your best, your chances of winning are very slim. Execution across the board, we need to play a lot cleaner and fix those things.”


O’Shea says one of the challenges of a longer-term injury like Lawler’s is keeping him part of the team.

“You hear about it all the time in other sports,” O’Shea said. “It’s self-imposed exile that players will put themselves in simply because they’re not on the field and they think their role changes drastically. Which it does. But their leadership, where they fit on the team, doesn’t change.

“A lot of guys feel if they can’t be out on the field they can’t lead. I don’t believe that.”

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