Linebacker Henoc Muamba couldn’t be happier with the Montreal Alouettes’ busy off-season.
Much has happened since Montreal’s season-ending playoff loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in November. Head coach Khari Jones signed a contract extension and the franchise secured new owners (Ontario businessmen Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern), a new president (Mario Cecchini) and GM (Danny Maciocia). The team has re-signed some key performers from its resurgent ‘19 season, notably starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. through 2022.
“There’s many foundational things being established right now and it’s all good news for the team going forward,” Muamba said in a telephone interview. “Vernon Adams is a guy who’s proven to be a great player, a great leader and someone who can take a team on the long journey all the way to the Grey Cup.
“It’s going to be huge for him mentally knowing the team has full confidence in him.”
Despite a rather inauspicious start, Montreal was one of the CFL’s feel-good stories last year. Jones was promoted to interim head coach a week before the Alouettes’ regular-season opener when Mike Sherman was fired.
After dropping its first two contests, Montreal improved to 2-2 before GM Kavis Reed was fired July 14. Undeterred, the Alouettes (10-8) finished second in the East Division to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and posted double-digit victories for the first time since 2012.
But the promising season ended with a 37-29 home loss to Edmonton in the East semi on Nov. 10. Although Montreal won’t have the element of surprise in 2020, Muamba’s confidence remains buoyed by both the franchise’s ‘19 campaign and productive off-season.
“As much as will be expected of us by the league, fans and everyone, we have high expectations for ourselves,” Muamba said. “We fell short last year, we feel we’re better than that and not only do we have high expectations for ourselves, we’re actually in a better place because of the stability that’s been established with the team the last two, three years.
“If you look at our roster, I think it’s been more consistent than it was the last five, six, seven years. Most of our coaches have been here the last two years and that’s huge going into training camp because having an understanding of the playbook is going to be, for us, a leg up.”
The six-foot, 230-pound Muamba, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but grew up in Mississauga, Ont., had 93 tackles last season to finish second to Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence (98). Muamba, 30, also had a sack, two forced fumbles and one recovery en route to being named the Alouettes’ top defensive player and Canadian.
But the former St. Francis Xavier University star — taken first overall in the 2011 CFL draft by Winnipeg — admits the disappointing end to Montreal’s season was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It was painful,” he said. “But one thing that helped me sleep at night (after the Edmonton loss) was looking back at where we came from and all the changes that were made from training camp.
“That gave me confidence to prepare for the upcoming season.”
For most football players, the off-season is an opportunity to first heal, then prepare for yet another training camp. But it’s also a chance for much-needed family time, something cherished by Muamba, a married father of a young daughter, Thea, who’s approaching her second birthday.
For Muamba, the importance of family was further driven home Sunday with the tragic death of retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash.
“It really puts many things into perspective,” he said. “You just appreciate life, you appreciate her (daughter’s) energy, everything, so much more because of things like that which happen around us.
“I always cherish time with my family, especially in the off-season, and I’ll do even more because of the circumstances.”
Muamba is also finding time to get an off-season project up and running. On Feb. 22, he’ll launch “Muamba Moment”, a series of interviews Muamba conducted with guests to share their stories online.
“The goal was to draw out some lessons they’d learned on their journey,” Muamba said. “My belief is if you take these lessons and apply them to your life, you’ll be able to reach the same level of success wherever you might find yourself.
“The guest list goes from football players who’ve transitioned into business to CEOs, Hall of Famers like Mike (Pinball) Clemons to Olympians and actors. There’s just a plethora of lessons I think everyone can learn from and at the end of the day I think it could be valuable for people.”
Muamba said regardless of what fields his guests come from, there are similar elements to their stories.
“The biggest thing I’ve realized with all the successful individuals I’ve sat down with is every single one of them had immense trials they had to overcome in order to reach the pinnacle,” he said.
Canadian Olympian Phylicia George’s story impressed Muamba.
“She displayed great courage,” he said. “She took a big leap of faith, moving from the 100-metre hurdles, which she’d always been good at, and represented Canada at the Olympics, to bobsled and ended up winning a bronze medal (with Kaillie Humphries in 2018).
“The meeting was extremely fascinating and I think can encourage anyone who’s already in a career but thinking about trying something new.”
Muamba will provide updates on “Muamba Moment” on his website (www.henocmuamba.com) and social media accounts (twitter: ↕HenocMuamba, instagram: ↕he—whoknocks). Initially, “Muamba Moment” will appear on a podcast but the hope is ultimately it move to television.