EDMONTON — “Maybe next year,” the mantra of losing sports teams to give hope to their fans, means something different to Edmonton Eskimos running backs Kendial Lawrence and John White.
To them, it speaks to the hopes that they’ll get to combine their talents for a full season. Unfortunately for the pair, it seems fate is against them.
Each time it appears the two will be the Eskimos roster at the same time, something happens. In 2015 White ruptured his Achilles tendon in camp and missed the entire season. In 2016 Lawrence was in Montreal and Saskatchewan. The last time the two were healthy and playing on the same team was 2014 when Lawrence joined the team two games into the season, and even then White missed nine games with various minor injuries.
When together, they were a formidable offensive force, combining in 2014 for 2,853 yards rushing, pass receiving and kick returning, and nine touchdowns. Over four seasons, White has played 41 games and Lawrence 48. Their combined rushing-passing-returning total is 8,875 yards and 29 touchdowns.
This year Lawrence, a five-foot-nine, 195-pound all-purpose running back/receiver/kick returner didn’t make the Eskimos out of training camp but is back on the roster this week because White is again out for the season, this time with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
It’s made for some interesting times for the pair, who have become good friends since they first met in Edmonton and are now roommates.
“Since I came here in ’14 we just kind of like saw the same thing, saw eye to eye,” Lawrence said this week as the Eskimos prepared for their Friday night home game against the Ottawa Redblacks. “Being on the field together that year was a lot of fun so we just been trying to reconnect that for the last two, three years.
“This year, we felt we’re finally reunited and looking into it long term,” he said of becoming roommates.
“Whether it be two, three, five years, we were just excited to be back playing together. The whole deal about the roommates, that’s nothing man, that’s my brother, so us living together it’s nothing, it’s like being back at home.”
It hasn’t all been fun and games, however.
“Yes, it’s really difficult,” Lawrence said of dealing with the situations the two of them have faced. “But at the same time, we’re each other’s biggest fan. Me not being on the roster, we both understood the business part of that but that never stopped us. If I was laying around he would get me up to go do stuff. He was motivating me every morning.”
Now the roles are reversed, and its Lawrence’s turn to support and motivate White through his second major injury in three years.
“My role, with him not playing right now, I want to motive him, stay on him, make sure he’s staying positive. Make sure he’s working hard and he still has the love of the game”
Even the topic of conversation can be touchy. One of the last things an injured athlete wants to hear is how well his teammate is playing, especially when one is on the roster at the expense of the other. Still, they’ve both played football all their lives, it’s in their blood so in the end there’s really no escaping the topic.
“We try not to, but we love football so much we end up talking about it, whether it’s a play, whether we see something, if we see a new technique we can learn from, it just happens,” said Lawrence. “The love of the game just never goes away.”
Ottawa comes into the game coming off a close 26-25 loss at home to Toronto last week. The defending Grey Cup champions are looking for their first win of the season, after trying and losing a two-game series with Calgary to open the campaign.
“Every time you lose a tough game like (Toronto) you want to move on and get back on the field,” Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said on the team’s website.
“Edmonton’s going to be a big challenge, it’s always tough to go out there, but we have every intention of going out there and playing good football.”