No offence to Bob Ross, but painting happy little trees wasn't exactly Redha Kramdi's thing.
The Montreal native grew up going to art school, but after Grade 9, Kramdi wanted to trade in his watercolours for a helmet and shoulder pads.
"My best friend at (art school) changed schools to play football in Grade 7. So, I made a deal with my parents that if I kept a good average, I could transfer and go to a school where I could play football. I always knew I wanted to take a different direction than art and my parents always knew also. It was a better fit for me to hit people than to draw," Kramdi said with a laugh during a phone interview.
The son of Algerian immigrants, Kramdi didn't know much about football growing up, but there were some signs that he was destined for the gridiron.
"I was always into sports. I played basketball, but I was always getting fouled out midway through the game so I knew basketball wasn't really for me," he said.
Kramdi got his first taste of organized football with two seasons at Dalbé-Viau High School, followed by three at Vanier College, and then two for the highly respected University of Montreal Carabins. The same aggression that got Kramdi into trouble on the basketball court is what made him stand out on the football field. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers took notice and selected the 24-year-old strong-side linebacker in the second round, 16th overall, in the 2021 CFL Draft earlier this month. It's expected the Bombers will use Kramdi at safety.
Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said Kramdi had the best special teams film out of anyone in the draft.
"I think I'm just a kid that gives everything he has on every snap. I think he saw that on tape and I'm just trying to make my name and be the best I can on every snap that I take," Kramdi said.
"I appreciate the compliment from Mr. Walters, but at the end of the day, I have to show up at camp and play football, earn the respect of my teammates, earn the respect of my coaches, and start from the ground up."
Despite the fact his parents aren't too familiar with football and how it works, Kramdi attributes the way he plays the game to them. They immigrated to Canada over 30 years ago and both worked their tails off to make it in a new country. Kramdi's mom, Fatima Boussebt, worked in health care and started a house cleaning business on the side. His dad, Madani, worked two to three jobs as a cook.
"It was a better fit for me to hit people than to draw." – Redha Kramdi
"I'm a hardworking kid and I get that from my parents. I'm grateful enough and thankful enough to only have to play football. If you put it into perspective, football is a game. I got the chance to go to school and play a game," Kramdi said.
"At my age, my parents had to work back home to help their families. My dad came from a pretty poor family. My grandfather on my dad's side died during the war in Algeria so my dad had to stop going to school to make money for the house. To know my dad worked at my age to help his family and I have the chance to just play football and go to school, I can't do stuff halfway. I go hard for them and I'm thankful for them making the sacrifices they did to put me in the position that I'm in today."
Kramdi, who has a job at his old high school making sure students are properly following COVID-19 guidelines, thought there was a good chance he'd be playing professional football in his hometown as his university coach, Danny Maciocia, is now the general manager for the Montreal Alouettes. But the Als, who held the 10th overall pick, went with a different Carabin instead as they selected offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage with their first pick (Montreal traded their first-round pick to Hamilton in 2018 for quarterback Johnny Manziel). Kramdi was long gone by the time Montreal was on the clock again at pick No. 27.
"I control what I can. I'm trying to be in the best shape I can be going into camp and be ready physically and mentally." – Redha Kramdi
"To be honest with you, I have a great relationship with Danny, but during the process, I told my agent I'd love to go outside of Montreal to just have another experience… For me, I just wanted to get out of Montreal, get out of my comfort zone and just see how I could react to that… Every alumni of the Carabins that messaged me to congratulate me all told me the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a great organization, the coaching staff is amazing, and I'll fit well down there. I'm excited to come and I can't wait to play football," he said.
Kramdi's go-to source for info on the Blue and Gold has been Kerfalla Emmanuel Exumé. The two played alongside each other for the Carabins before Exumé was picked in the eighth round by the Bombers in the 2019 draft. Exumé, who signed with the Alouettes this past off season, ended up being quite the steal for Winnipeg as he finished his rookie season in 2019 with 25 special teams tackles which put him in a tie for the second-most in the CFL. During their university days, Exumé and Kramdi used to make bets with one another on who would be the first to get a special teams tackle or who'd be the first one to make it down the field on a kickoff.
They may be close friends, but that doesn't mean they're not looking forward to having the opportunity to hit each other.
"Some people might've been surprised, but back home in Montreal with the Carabins, we weren't surprised. We know how he plays," said Kramdi's on Exumé's success.
"We've actually been working out together. We're talking lot of crap to be honest with you. We're excited to face each other."
Kramdi hasn't played since 2019, a year in which he had 32.5 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and two pass breakups in seven games while helping the Carabins make it to the Vanier Cup, as last season was cancelled owing to the pandemic. He had an opportunity to play NCAA football in Ohio at Youngstown State in 2020, but it fell through as they ended up playing their schedule in the spring instead of the fall. For a guy who's praised for how much he loves football, you can imagine how hard it'd be to have two straight seasons axed, but all the uncertainty surrounding a 2021 CFL season is not something Kramdi is dwelling on.
"I'm trying to not think a lot about it. If the season happens or not, I have no control over that," he said.
"I control what I can. I'm trying to be in the best shape I can be going into camp and be ready physically and mentally."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.