Nothing's set in stone, but CFL players now have somewhat of an idea of what their year might look like.
After months of silence, the CFL announced last week the 2021 season will be cut down to a 14-game schedule with a targeted Aug. 5 start date, owing to the third wave of the pandemic. The Grey Cup is scheduled to be pushed back to Dec.12 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
For now, it's only written in pencil as the CFL will wait until early June before making anything about the season official. Until then, players around the league will continue to do what they've done for the past 14 months — wait and hope they get the green light sooner rather than later.
"For a long time, we've been asking for a little bit of certainty," said Winnipegger DJ Lalama, a linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes.
"Obviously COVID is a curveball that nobody can predict, but I think for the entire membership and the entire league to have a date set, it gives us some hope. It gives us some transparency, some motivation, something to work towards and just gets us excited to be getting back on the field and doing what we all love to do."
Just because there's "hope" of a 2021 season, is there confidence it will actually happen?
"That's the magic question, isn't it? I'm fairly optimistic," said Lalama, 27, a St. Paul's High School product who starred for the University of Manitoba Bisons.
"... I think for the entire membership and the entire league to have a date set, it gives us some hope. It gives us some transparency, some motivation, something to work towards and just gets us excited to be getting back on the field and doing what we all love to do." — DJ Lalama
"With what you see in terms of the vaccine rollouts, with what you see in terms of the owners, the commissioner, the CFLPA, everyone's doing everything what they can to put the proper measures in place to get us back on the field. All we can control is what we control as the individual athlete or player and that's to be ready should the season start in early August. From there, you hope you're back and I'd rather choose to be optimistic and hopeful than the other side."
Last year, the CFL thought it had found a solution — a bubble in Winnipeg — but the plan fell through, as they couldn't secure the funds to make it happen. Veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld doesn't envision the CFL striking out two years in a row and praised the league's 2021 return-to-play plan.
"I just don't see us not having football. I think they'll keep pushing it back and pushing it back so we can at some point have a season," said Neufeld in a phone interview from Saskatoon.
"I don't even think about us not being able to play. There are so many things that are beginning to trend upwards. I think the vaccine rollout is helping and people are adhering to safety protocols countrywide. I just think they're going to keep pushing it later and later and there will be a way for us to get on the field to play."
While players seemed to have welcomed last week's announcement, many were hoping it had come sooner. Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, a Dallas, Texas, native, took to Twitter April 4 and wrote "Do not like the feeling of being left in the dark by the CFL about when we will be reporting or even when they might expect us to report. A ton of us have to tie up loose ends here in the States months in advance before we can head back."
"I just don't see us not having football. I think they'll keep pushing it back and pushing it back so we can at some point have a season." — Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld
Players such as Jeffcoat will now have ample time to make the necessary adjustments before camp starts, but the months won't be easy. Players will have to ramp up their training while continuing to pay the bills, before the majority see even a penny of their CFL cheques.
"It's really about planning out your day and chalking up those priorities in the right order. Am I doing two-a-days right now as if I was heading off to camp in two weeks? No, but am I still training every day to give myself and my teammates the best possible version of me come August? Absolutely," said Lalama, who's working full-time for a nutritional supplements company.
"That's a choice I'm willing to make. Maybe sacrifice a thing or two elsewhere because I'm passionate about the game and I still feel like I have a lot to give. Other people may have families or other jobs or roles that may not allow for that ... and I respect that, too. But I can tell you from speaking to other guys across the league, people are hungry."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.