GVSU linemen Revenberg, Bourke enjoy success in CFL
Josh Bourke of the Toronto Argonauts and Brandon Revenberg of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have had similar but separate paths to the CFL
Editor’s note: The Lanthorn covered a CFL game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Hamilton, Ontario Aug. 20. Here’s an exclusive look at GVSU’s involvement in the CFL, as well as the differences between Canadian and American football.
HAMILTON, Canada -- On the way to the stadium, the minute differences become more apparent. Tim Hortons coffee shops are littered throughout the city the way Starbucks is in the United States. The speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour. A tradition of the locals living in the shadow of the stadium, fans’ cars are parked in the yards of the surrounding houses, the most popular method of game-day parking. The city is adorned in black and gold team colors, but this is not Pittsburgh.
Welcome to Hamilton, Ontario.
While NFL teams are still working out the kinks and evaluating players during the preseason in August, the Canadian Football League is already in full swing by this time. Entering their game against Saskatchewan (1-6), the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (stylized ‘TiCats’) were 3-4 on the year and looking to regain their footing.
TiCats’ starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed the first seven games of an 18-game regular season with an injury, made his 2016 season debut last week against the British Columbia Lions, a 45-38 loss.
A part of the unit that will help protect Collaros, Brandon Revenberg, the former Grand Valley State lineman who started at tackle, guard and center over his four years with the Lakers, is listed on the depth chart as a backup to starting left guard Peter Dyakowski.
The TiCats drafted Revenberg, a native of Windsor, Ontario, with the third overall pick in the 2016 CFL Draft. The TiCats are slowly integrating their top prospect more and more each week, as he continues to adjust to the Canadian style of football.
“Coming in this year, I didn’t really set any high expectations for myself for the amount of playing time I would get,” Revenberg said. “As of right now, the last couple games have just kind of been a rotation, getting some reps here and there. All of (the TiCats offensive linemen) have been great. Ryan Bomben Peter Dyakowski, you know all of those guys, even the tackles have been helping me out, so I appreciate that from them.”
The evening of Aug. 20 approaches closer to the 7 p.m. kickoff, and event staff on the field unravel one of the largest Canadian flags in the country. There will be no Star Spangled Banner here—the flag is rolled out for a performance of “Oh, Canada.” The pregame festivities are over, and it's time for kickoff.
As the game in Hamilton was just getting started, another CFL contest about 50 miles northeast of Hamilton is coming to an end. The Toronto Argonauts—the TiCats' bitter rival—have just suffered a 46-23 home loss at the hands of the Edmonton Eskimos. Despite the loss, one of the Argonauts’ players, veteran offensive lineman Josh Bourke, has had many more wins than losses in his football career.
Bourke played five years at GVSU—three years with current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, two years with former Laker coach Chuck Martin—and cemented himself as the best offensive lineman to ever suit up in Laker blue.
Bourke played in four national championships in his five years at GVSU, three of which were wins (2002, 2003 and 2005). He was an Associated Press First-Team All-American his senior year, the 2005 GLIAC offensive lineman of the year and a two-time First-Team All-GLIAC selection.
“Grand Valley was an awesome university experience,” Bourke said. "2001 is when we went to our first national championship. We ended up losing to North Dakota, but that was kind of when the wheels got set in motion and we were (thought) we have a pretty good team.’
“Obviously, winning three national championships, not a lot of people can say that at the Division II level.”
Bourke credits his coaches for bringing top level talent—much of which was in-state—to GVSU and creating a winning culture in the football program.
Bourke was the 23rd overall pick by the Montreal Alouettes in the 2004 CFL Draft during his redshirt junior season. He decided to finish out his career at GVSU rather than going directly to the CFL.
After his GVSU career came to an end, he signed a contract as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2006. He spent a year with the team as a reserve player before getting released in June of 2007.
Bourke had a couple of workouts with various NFL teams after he was cut, but nothing came to fruition. He decided to join Montreal, which still owned his draft rights, in July of the same year. A few weeks into his time there, the Alouettes’ starting left tackle was injured, and Bourke was thrust into the lineup.
Though Bourke had planned on throwing his hat in the ring in the NFL again after the 2007 season with the Alouettes, he tore his ACL at the end of the year, which ultimately derailed his plans of chasing his NFL dream.
Bourke decided to stick it out with the Alouettes—a decision that in hindsight turned out to be the best thing for the up-and-coming offensive lineman.
“Sometimes in life, things don’t really work out perfectly the way you want them,” Bourke said. “It kind of was an ‘it is what it is’ type situation. Looking back on it now, I still feel very fortunate and blessed to play a sport that I love for a living.”
Bourke would end up spending the next nine seasons with Montreal, where he was a two-time CFL All-Star, a seven time CFL East All-Star and a two-time Leo Dandurand trophy award winner (2011 and 2012; annually awards the top lineman in the CFL).
In 2009 and 2010, he was a part of Montreal teams that won back-to-back Grey Cups, a feat that has yet to be matched since the Alouettes last did it.
“The parades after winning the championship in Montreal were like nothing I ever experienced before," Bourke said. "To win two back-to-back, it’s pretty hard to do that in today’s world. Even though I don’t wear them that often, I still have the rings to remind me of it."
Back in Hamilton
The game in Hamilton kicks off, and former Washington Redskins receiver Brandon Banks returns the ball for Hamilton. He has to be aware of the goal post, which placed at the front of the 20 yard end zone—twice the size of an NFL end zone. He fields the ball from the end zone because unlike the NFL, a kicked ball to this part of the field is still a live ball.
Revenberg is subbed in at the 11:05 mark of the first quarter. His primary role throughout the evening is to relieve Dyakowski on longer drives or certain plays. As he lines up for the play, the defensive linemen line up a yard off of the ball, as opposed to the line of scrimmage, another wrinkle of CFL ball.
“A yard off the ball is something where I have to be a little more patient when it comes to the pass sets, so you kind of have to let it come to you,” Revenberg said. “It could be a little dangerous because they have that yard to work with.”
The TiCats drive ends in a field goal, and the Roughriders take over for the first time. Unfortunately for them, their first crack at it results in a two and out.
Yes, a two and out. In the CFL, there are only three downs.
Later in the quarter, a Collaros pass is tipped by one player, and then caught by the TiCats’ Andrew Fantuz, who takes up field for a score. In the presnap, Fantuz was about 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage, and then got a running start before the ball was snapped. This is the norm for CFL receivers, as opposed to American receivers, who are required to stand sentry until the ball is snapped.
After another score in the second quarter to put the TiCats up 20-3. Throughout the quarter, several penalties are called with unfamiliar names to the American ear: Time count, which is signified by the referee moving an extended arm in a circular motion, equal to a delay of game; illegal procedure, equal to a false start; objectionable conduct, the equivalent of a personal foul.
Later in the quarter, a TiCats punt goes out of bounds, which is only allowed inside opponents’ 20-yard line. This results in what is called a ‘rouge,’ which awards a the receiving team a single point in the case of an illegal kick; in this case, a punt that went out of bounds. The rouge made the score 20-4, but the Roughriders would need more than just a rouge to get back into this game.
The TiCats took a 27-4 lead into the half. They were able to get another Collaros touchdown pass inside the three minute warning—no two minute warning in Canada. The rest of the game would feature Revenberg and many of the reserves getting time.
The first half is marked by nearly all passing, with 409 total pass yards between both teams compared to just 58 total rush yards. This is what you can expect in a typical CFL game.
The last major wrinkle of the game is an instance in the third quarter where the game clock hit zero while the players were set, but the offense was still required to run a play. The TiCats would cruise the rest of the way to a 53-7 win, improving to 4-4 on the season.
Canadian football differences
After the game, Revenberg looks leaner than his days in Laker blue. Part of the adjustment to the Canadian game is adapting to the fast-paced nature of the CFL, and for offensive linemen from the U.S., that means shedding weight.
Bourke went through the same thing when he was starting out in 2007.
“When I played at Grand Valley I was about 315, now I’m about 300,” Bourke said. “I really don’t need to be 315 anymore. With the fast paced game, you’ve got to be in shape, especially because we play in the sun, a lot of the season is during the summer. You’ve got to be in shape, otherwise you’ll break down.”
Revenberg is optimistic about his team’s chances after the win. The 53 point mark is the highest of the season for the TiCats, and with Collaros returning right before the halfway point of the season, the team is seemingly catching its second wind and readying for the long haul.
For him, he knows there’s only one thing he needs to do.
“Right now it’s pretty simple for me, (my goal) is to better myself every day,” Revenberg said. “I figure as long as I do that, I’ll let the chips fall where they may."
Bourke, the decorated veteran, was once in the exact shoes the rookie Revenberg is in now a decade ago. He knows the trials, hardships and workload Revenberg will face trying to make a living playing Canadian football.
Bourke has just one piece of advice for his fellow Laker.
“Just take advantage of your opportunities,” he said. “You never know when they’re going to come. For me, I got really lucky. Someone had gotten hurt, and I basically took over that spot and never relinquished it back again. You never know when your chance is gonna happen; sometimes guys wait months, a couple years, days, you never know.
“That’s the biggest thing in the CFL, there’s so much turnover year-to-year on teams. Once you have an opportunity—and he’ll get his opportunity—you really gotta take advantage of it, grasp it and run with it.”