Chris Kolankowski’s voice was clearly and obviously pleased. There may also be a hint of relief.

Kolankowski and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers formally agreed on a new two-year deal on Monday, ensuring that the veteran center will remain at the heart of the offensive line until the 2025 Grey Cup game at Princess Auto Stadium.

And that provides some clarity at a critical time in his career and life, as he and his wife Rianna welcomed their daughter Delilah into the world just over three weeks ago, on January 7th.

“Everything is fantastic. “It’s been a good month, especially now that this contract is completed,” Kolankowski said with a grin in an interview with bluebombers.com from his winter home in Toronto. “Knowing where I’m going now is fantastic, especially because this is where I wanted to end up all along. We now have some certainty about where we will be in the following 24 months.

Kolankowski agreed to his new contract just days before the CFL’s free agent bargaining window opens this weekend. His agent, Fred Weinrauch, had done some research to gauge prospective interest throughout the league, all while knowing where his client wanted to go.

“At the end of the day, he knew I wanted to be back in Winnipeg,” Kolankowski said. “The coaches were aware of that. My teammates were aware of this. Then it was simply a matter of negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement. That was my goal here: to get back to Winnipeg.”
“We considered several ‘What if?’ possibilities, but we didn’t need to go there. I wasn’t really looking to see what was out there. I know when I’m in Winnipeg, I adore playing football. I adore going to work. I appreciate how Marty (Costello, offensive line coach) conducts the O-line room, and that’s an important part of it for me because it aligns with the way I want to work.

“It’s compatibility all the way around, from the locker room to the meeting room, all of that was part of me wanting to be back in Winnipeg.”

There are a lot of layers to Kolankowski’s story that make it so compelling. Drafted by the Toronto Argonauts in the sixth round in 2016, the York University product suited up for 22 games over the ’17 and ’18 seasons before being released and added by the Blue Bombers.

And that’s when the real work began for a player who didn’t give up on himself and had so many encouraging him to keep grinding. He dressed for the Grey Cup win in 2021 and stepped in with his first run of consecutive starts for an injured Michael Couture in 2022 before becoming the club’s starting centre last season.

“This is the team that really gave me a chance,” he told reporters. “I spent some time in Toronto, and it was amazing. However, the situation in Winnipeg differs slightly. I always felt like the coaches believed in me. Even in 2021, after a year off (no football in 2020), they put me on the practice roster. Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) stated that they don’t generally put veterans on the practice roster, but he believed it would take some time with me. That meeting with Osh, Kyle (Walters, GM), and Marty coaching me hard.

They believed in me from the start and knew I could get to where I needed to be to contribute. This means a lot. It matters a lot to know that I have folks in that organization who support me.
“I also don’t want to understate the support I’ve had from ex-teammates, teammates, coaches, my family, and my wife Rianna. Sure, the workouts were on my own, and there were times when I wondered if it was worth it to keep going, but the people around me motivated me. They kept encouraging me, ‘It’s not time to quit.’ That reassurance helped me get through the difficult times.

Kolankowski’s return follows the additions of left tackle Stanley Bryant and right guard Pat Neufeld, who were also pending free agents. Left guard Geoff Gray and right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick remain on the verge of free agency, but Liam Dobson, Tui Eli, and Drew Richmond are still under contract. That familiarity, combined with the environment Costello has fostered with a senior bunch of linemen, were major factors in Kolankowski’s comeback.

“We know what it takes,” Kolankowski added. “We’re not trying to create a culture that understands it; we’re trying to keep the culture and the standard that’s been established and raise it a little higher each week, every year.

“As a seasoned player, I enjoy playing with veterans, and every year we bring in new players and show them the ropes. That was started before I moved to Winnipeg, and I’m just trying to help keep it going. It’s a lot of work, but the standard is quite clear – with FIFO, everyone knows.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.