The 2019 season wasn’t easy for Montreal Alouettes defensive end David Menard. The 29-year-old spent more than half the year unemployed, as he was cut by the B.C. Lions in late-April. Menard didn’t jump back into the CFL until August when the Lions brought him back into the fold.
The veteran defensive lineman finished the year in B.C. and hit free agency in February. Once the market opened, Menard landed a one-year deal with the team in his home Province.
Now, he’s reunited with a few of his old University of Montreal teammates and he’s also working for his former head coach, Danny Maciocia.
Menard and I spoke via telephone on Saturday to talk about the trials that came last season and what he’s looking forward to most now that he’s an Alouette.
Here’s how it went:
Joey Alfieri: Outside of working out, what have you been doing to stay busy during the Covid-19 pandemic?
David Menard: Honestly, working out is my main occupation. I’ve got no job and there’s nothing really going on. I just work out as much as I can and I’m trying to take advantage of this time to rest and get ready for when we get the call that the season is back on.
JA: What are you expecting in 2020? Do you think there will be a season?
DM: I’m preparing for the worst. I’m prepared for pretty much anything at this point. I feel like this is exactly like last summer when I was a free agent. You never know when you’re going to get a call from a team and you don’t know if you’re going to be back on the football field at any point. I just feel like it’s the same case right now. But the entire world is in that situation.
Do I expect anything? Honestly, I don’t know. I hope for the best. I hope that we only miss a couple of weeks and that we’re still going to be able to play a decent amount of games, but I have no idea.
You look at the numbers and the amount of people that actually have the disease. It’s pretty alarming. I feel like there’s a lot of people that still don’t do enough to make sure we get control the situation. We depend on so many things.
JA: You mentioned what happened last year. When B.C. was signing big-name free agents like Mike Reilly, Sukh Chungh and Duron Carter, did you have an idea that they were going to let you go when they did?
DM: I wasn’t surprised when that happened. When Wally Buono stepped down as the GM and Ed Hervey got the job, Wally was asked to come back for one last season as the head coach. Obviously, that year (2017) I had a great year. As a rotational defensive end, I had great numbers. I was probably one of the most productive guys on the defence. So, Ed re-signed me for two years. It was a great deal from my point of view. That’s what I wanted and everything was good.
But from Day 1 when I showed up for training camp, I wasn’t really part of the team’s plans. Ed signed a couple of his guys and obviously I wasn’t in the plans anymore. So I spent that entire season on the bench. When that next off-season came around, obviously, I was expecting to happen. But when April came, I was like: “Okay, nothing happened so I guess I’m still on the team and still in the plans.” When the last cuts before training camp happened, I was on that list. I wasn’t really surprised.
JA: Getting cut in April has to be a nasty feeling. All the teams have spent their money in free agency and you’re stuck looking for a new team on short notice.
DM: Oh, it’s the worst. Had I been cut in January or February, I would’ve dealt with that easily. But in my case, it was 48 hours before the Canadian College Draft. Obviously, teams all have their draft plans. When they were making those plans, I was still under contract so I couldn’t be in their plans because I wasn’t available. When I got cut, like you said, every team has spent the money, every team has their plans, so I wasn’t in anybody’s plans.
Winnipeg showed interest in me an hour after I got cut and, by the way, I’m really grateful they did because it gave me a kick. It showed me that I had to keep going because there was still hope. It didn’t end up working out with Winnipeg, but at least I had something to hold on to.
JA: So you sat out half a season before going back to the Lions. I’m sure you managed to stay in great physical shape, but how did you deal with that mentally?
DM: Yeah, physically I was fine. I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in. That wasn’t a problem. But mentally, I don’t know how I was able to deal with that. You only know how strong you are when you’re forced into a situation you’ve never been in.
I had a chance to be surrounded by people that I’m close to. I went back to my hometown of Chicoutimi. They probably don’t even know it, but they really helped me stay sane, I guess. I was talking to a lot of people about (my situation) and they helped me without even knowing it.
I missed half of the season, so I had a lot of time to think. You get to the point where you actually put everything into perspective. And you think about how you’ve been doing this for 15 years and how it ended. What am I going to do the rest of my life if I really did play my last snap of football? You have a lot of time to think. I don’t know how I coped with all that. I was working out like a dog. I was doing everything I could take advantage of an opportunity if it came my way. And I think I did that. I proved that I still had some good football left in me when I got back to B.C.
JA: How much time were you giving yourself to find a new team before thinking seriously about retirement?
DM: I thought about that so many times. I asked old coaches what they thought I should do. You always want to keep going. In my mind, I was ready to spend that entire season home working out trying to stay ready. And if it didn’t happen, I was ready to give it one more off-season and keep working out and keep grinding to hopefully land a spot somewhere. I would’ve probably given it one more year. I’m gonna be 30 next season and I don’t want to live with regrets. I don’t want to feel like I could’ve or should’ve done more (to keep my career going). When I’m gonna retire one day, there’s no way I’m going to regret that I could’ve done more.
JA: Did you ever come close to landing in Montreal with the Alouettes?
DM: I had never really hit free agency before, so no. But when I was a free agent last year, I know Montreal was involved in talks, but they had something (good) going on and it was great. They were riding a good wave, so they didn’t want to do much. I understand that. It was close, but they didn’t pull the trigger because everything was going smoothly and I totally get that. So, I was probably close (to joining Montreal last season), but not before that because I never really hit free agency.
JA: I noticed that the Als gave you number 52. I know the number you wore in B.C. (78) is retired by the team (Virgil Wagner). Why 52?
DM: (Laughs) They gave me 79 when I first signed because they assumed I’d take something close to 78.
The story about number 78 is that when I got to my first training camp in B.C. they give you a number and you don’t really argue. So I wore 78 for training camp and everything went so fast that when the first regular season game came around, I realized that I didn’t change my number (laughs). So, I figured I was stuck with 78 and I kept 78 for my entire time in B.C. because I don’t like changing numbers that much. When I change numbers it’s kind of a new chapter in my life. Montreal is a new chapter. I kind of like 52, so I asked for 52 a couple of weeks ago and they gave it to me. It’s a number I’ve never worn. I like it and it’s a new chapter, so I’m wearing a new number.
JA: You wore number seven at the University of Montreal, right?
DM: Yeah, that’s right.
JA: So you would’ve had to buy John Bowman a Rolex if you wanted that one (laughs).
DM: Uhhhhh no (laughs), not a chance! I would’ve liked 77 though, but it’s retired, too (Junior Ah You).
JA: How much of you returning to Montreal had to do with Danny Maciocia being the general manager?
DM: Well it’s great timing that Danny and I came in at the same time because we have a good relationship. Every time I would go to the CEPSUM, I’d swing by and talk to Danny. So we have a good relationship.
Honestly, I wanted to play in Montreal. I wanted to end my career in Montreal no matter what. So it’s just great that he took the job at the exact same time I arrived. Danny and I have a great relationship. I really appreciate that. He’s going to be easy to work with, but it’s not going to change the fact that he’s my GM. We’re not going to be friends or anything. He’s going to be my boss. I know if I have something on my mind, I can talk to him about it.
But on the other hand, I really wanted to play in Montreal. I wanted to have the feeling that I’m really home. I started to have that feeling in B.C. because I had been there for five-and-half seasons. I had the feeling that I was comfortable there, but I’ve never really been home. In Montreal, I’m really going to be home and that’s really special.
JA: You know that’s going to cost you more money with tickets…
DM: Yeah, I’m ready for that (laughs). I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to be able to do that. Or I’ll just say “no” to everyone. If you want to come see, just pay for your own ticket (laughs).
JA: Were you an Alouettes fan growing up? Do you have any Als memories that stand out?
DM: One of my good memories happened when I was in secondary four (grade 10). I did the “Camp Elite” back then and I was coached by Anwar Stewart at that time. Obviously, he had a long career in Montreal, so I was always watching him. He coached me there and that kind of gave me the little fire in me that made me want to get the pro level. He coached me for the entire week and I learned so much from him. He probably doesn’t even remember me, but I appreciated that week a lot. I learned a lot and that’s what gave me that little fire to not only play for the Alouettes but to also play professional football. Now that I get the chance to be in Montreal, it’s even better.
JA: What you going to miss most about Vancouver?
DM: It’s so beautiful out West. I like Montreal, I really, really do. The city itself is better than Vancouver, but the thing with Vancouver is that you can drive an hour and you can be in the woods, by the lake and you can sit on any kind of beach that you like. The outdoors out there is so great. The West Coast is the West Coast. I think that’s really what I’m going to miss most.
And I really like the beer out there, to be honest. They have so many microbreweries (laughs). I’m really gonna miss that! I’m not even lying right now!
JA: I read that you lived with Junior Luke, Frederic Chagnon and David Foucault while you were with the Lions. (Side note: Luke and Chagnon both signed with the Als this winter). What was that like?
DM: Yeah, and Charles Vaillancourt was living with us when he was with B.C. too.
(Living together) wasn’t going to be great on every level even though we’re from the same area-ish. But it was really easy to just be home and be comfortable with guys that you know and that you could speak French with.
My first year in B.C., I lived with a guy from Philadelphia and a guy from Kelowna, and my English wasn’t that great at the time. I still have to improve, but at that point it wasn’t the best. Thinking and speaking English 24/7 was really hard. I was tired because I was playing my first CFL season, but I was also tired because I had to speak English all the time. Living with the French guys, it was so easy to just be yourself at home. You don’t have to think about what you’re going to say and we really got along pretty well. It was good to live with those guys. When you have something on your mind, you can talk with guys that you’re living with because you’re comfortable with them.
JA: Who was the messiest of the guys you were living with?
DM: The messiest? Junior (Luke).
JA: Give me the Junior Luke scouting report. What can Als fans expect from him in 2020?
DM: Junior is a great football player. The thing with Junior is that he can make a lot of great plays. Whether or not he makes great plays on every play is his decision. I know being a starter in the CFL is hard and that’s a lot of pressure, but you still have to take advantage of every snap and every chance that you’ve got. That’s on him.
But I know he can make great plays. Even when we were playing in Montreal with the Carabins, he was so good and he didn’t even know it. He just has to be able to trust himself because he can make a lot of great plays, but I don’t even know if he really trusts himself yet.
JA: Give me your best and worst memories you have playing against the Alouettes.
DM: My worst memory, without a doubt, it’s not even close. I don’t even have to spend a second thinking about it. It was my first playoff game (2014 East Division Semi-Final in Montreal). We were the crossover team and it was 50-3 (for Montreal) in the third quarter and I had absolutely no fun playing football at that point (the Lions lost the game 50-17).
My best would be two years ago (Sep. 2017 in Vancouver) when I had two sacks and almost got a third one. I had a crazy game. I played like 12 snaps and I had two sacks, two tackles and one tackle for a loss. That was a crazy game.
*Fun fact: Darian Durant was the Alouettes’ starting quarterback that day.
It was funny to go back and find my reaction to this play on Twitter:
Lining up poor Oumar Toure against Menard probably wasn’t the best idea.
Feature Image Credit: Canadian Press