Atlantic Canadians might not have their own CFL team to cheer for, but at least one of them is bringing home a Grey Cup ring.
Matt Albright, the 6-foot-5, 295-lb Dartmouth native and offensive lineman, helped the Ottawa Redblacks defeat the Calgary Stampeders in the 2016 Grey Cup on Nov. 27. The championship was the first of Albright’s career and served as redemption for the Redblacks, who surrendered a 13-point lead on their way to a loss at the 2015 Grey Cup.
The victory also ended a 40-year CFL championship drought for the city of Ottawa.
Albright, 25, began playing organized football at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, before moving on to Saint Mary’s University and the Huskies in Halifax. His time with the Huskies saw him rewarded as an Atlantic University Sport All-Star and he was a finalist for the 2012 Russ Jackson Award, presented annually to the Canadian university football player that best exemplifies academic achievement, football skill and citizenship.
Albright was the 42nd pick in the 2013 CFL Draft by the B.C. Lions. He only played one season in Vancouver before being selected by Ottawa in the 2013 Expansion Draft, a draft designed to transfer players from existing teams to the Ottawa Redblacks.
The 2016 season was Albright’s third playing in the nation’s capital.
The Signal spoke to Albright about his Grey Cup victory and life as a football player.
Q: How would you describe the feeling of winning a Grey Cup?
I know people always say that there are no words to describe it and that it sounds a little cliché and all that, but when you know you just won the Grey Cup, there’s nothing to think about. You just run on the field and get hyped.
It kind of sunk in three or four days later. That night, and the next couple days, you’re just with your teammates. You’re so used to playing another game the next week. When you realize that you don’t have any more games to play, that you did what you came here to do, I think that’s when it finally sinks in.
Q: Near the end of the Grey Cup, Calgary recovered an onside kick and managed a field goal to tie the game. Were you worried heading into overtime, based on what happened in 2015?
Honestly, that was all I could think of. It didn’t start as soon as they got the onside kick; it started when we got a case of the ‘fumble-itis.’ I think we had two or three fumbles at the end of the third, start of the fourth quarter. We were up by 20 and they started coming back. That was kind of the case all season; we’d have a big lead on teams, we’d let them back in and make it a closer game that it had to be. It happened with Edmonton too, in the semi-final.
I was like “here we go, not again.” When they went for the onside kick, I was thinking it was a low percentage that they’d recover it. When they got the onside kick, my heart definitely dropped a bit.
Q: You play on the offensive line, which is only really noticed when something goes wrong. How do you measure success as an offensive player?
My success comes from other people’s success. If Hank (Burris) or whoever else is playing quarterback has a great game and doesn’t get hit, or if whoever’s running the rock behind me can run for 100 plus yards, then we (the offensive line) have had a great game.
You pretty much measure how you played by how well everyone else around you played.
Q: You played your high school football at Prince Andrew and with the Huskies at Saint Mary’s. How did those experiences prepare you for professional football?
When I played at P.A., we kind of had one good season and one bad season. I think having to experience winning and losing kind of prepared me for professional football. I never have really lost so much at other sports, so having a no-win season at Prince Andrew was pretty tough. In my first year in Ottawa, we went 2-16, so it kind of prepared me for that.
St. Mary’s coaching staff really prepared me. It’s like that segue to the next level; they take you from an average high school football player and slowly develop you over the course of four or five years. That’s what college is for: to prepare you for the next level and to get your degree.
Q: In 2012, you were named a finalist for the Russ Jackson award. How important is it for athletes to give back to their communities?
That was definitely something instilled by my parents, my brother and sister and pretty much every coach I’ve ever had. Every coach I’ve ever had has called me a ‘student-athlete’ and told me that being a student comes first.
My parents always said to me: “if you’re in a position to help people, you better do it.” Whether you’re a Saint Mary’s football player, a professional player or a high school player, you have an opportunity to give back. It was definitely nice to get recognized for that and while the whole academic thing wasn’t always easy, my parents always pushed me to get better.
Being nominated for the Russ Jackson award was probably one of the highlights of my career at Saint Mary’s.
Q: At 25, you likely have many years of professional football ahead of you. Nonetheless, have you thought about what you’d like to do once your playing career is over?
I definitely want to try and give back and give some of the kids playing football out east the opportunity that I had. Football out east isn’t as big as it is in Ontario, out West, or Quebec even. I’d like to maybe set-up a camp, give kids an early head-start on football so that they can compete with the rest of the country.
Q: What are your thoughts about potential CFL expansion to the East Coast?
First of all, I would love for there to be a CFL team in Atlantic Canada. Growing up out east, we clearly never had one, so I never got to go to many CFL games unless we travelled to Toronto or something.
I think once the team arrived, the interest would peak more. I think when they’re doing their preliminary looks at the population and fan interest, they don’t really see the interest … but I think it’s one of those “if you build it, they will come” type of things.
I think we have the population for it and I think a lot of people out east don’t really know what they’re missing yet. It’s pretty crazy to see the support that people give and Halifax doesn’t really have a pro sports team. It would be pretty cool.
Q: Will you be bringing the Grey Cup back to Halifax this off-season?
Definitely. I’m pretty sure that we get one day with the Grey Cup and that bad boy is coming home. I’m going to take it to Prince Andrew. I’m going to take it to St. Mary’s — pretty much anywhere and anybody that helped me get to where I am, they’re going to see it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.