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Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga is looking forward to playing for his new team, the Ottawa Redblacks, in the Canadian Football League.
The former three-time All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team selection at the University of Maine spent the previous three seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.
In Ottawa, Mulumba-Tshimanga will be greeted by some familiar faces: former UMaine teammates Sharrod Baltimore and Micah Wright. It’s just a matter of when the reunion will occur.
The league was supposed to begin play on Thursday, but the new coronavirus pandemic has pushed the start of the season back until at least September.
The Grey Cup, the Canadian league’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, has been moved from November to December. The finalist with the best record will host the championship game.
The league plans an eight-game regular season rather than its usual 18-game campaign.
Tshimanga is keeping his fingers crossed that there will be a season.
“It’s hard to say, to be honest, with everything going on. I’m staying positive. I do hope we have a season,” said Tshimanga, a Montreal native. “Things are starting to open up in Montreal and, hopefully, there won’t be a second wave” of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Also in Ottawa, Baltimore is preparing for his fourth season as a defensive back with the Redblacks. Wright, a wide receiver, signed a free agent contract and will begin the season on the practice squad.
Mike Benevides, who coached Tshimanga in Edmonton for two seasons, has joined Ottawa as its defensive coordinator.
“It won’t feel too foreign to me,” said the 27-year-old Tshimanga, who was born in the Republic of the Congo.
He wanted to test free agency and Ottawa was aggressive pursuing him.
“I wanted something new. I heard only good things about Ottawa’s organization and it’s a lot closer to home,” said Tshimanga, who signed a one-year deal.
Montreal is only 124 miles from Ottawa, while Edmonton was 2,227 miles away.
Ottawa had the worst record in the league last season (3-15). Tshimanga, who is coming off an injury-marred campaign in Edmonton, will try to bolster a defense that gave up league-high 31.3 points per game.
A lung contusion and shoulder and hamstring injuries limited him to nine games. He finished with 10 tackles, all on special teams.
“It was an unlucky year. It was a roller coaster,” Tshimanga said.
In 2018, he registered 45 tackles, including 11 on special teams, with two sacks and two forced in 16 games. As a rookie in 2017, Tshimanga logged 32 total tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles.
He has been living in the Montreal suburb of Laval where he said he has been running, playing tennis and working out with his longtime trainer, former Syracuse University cornerback Ousmane Bary.
Tshimanga said tennis provides him with a good complementary workout.
“You have good short bursts and you have to change direction. I like it,” he said.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Tshimanga has been doing more running than weight training because he wants to get lighter and quicker in order to compete for a starting job at either inside linebacker or outside linebacker.
“I have to be ready to play both. That will give me a better chance to earn more playing time,” said Tshimanga, who was drafted in the third round (22nd overall) by Edmonton.
He racked up 347 career tackles at UMaine.
He said he will be ready to play — if there is a Canadian league season. There likely won’t be any fans in the stands.
“It will be different without fans, but I just want to play ball. Regardless of the situation, I’m just going to focus on playing well and winning football games,” he said.
Baltimore, who is from Fort Washington, Maryland, has produced 91 defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in his three-year, 42-game career with Ottawa. He had 29 defensive tackles, a special teams tackle and a forced fumble last season.
Wright was on the Redblacks’ roster last fall but didn’t play. He was a three-time All-CAA wide receiver at UMaine, where he caught 160 passes for 2,143 yards in his career. He was also an all-conference punt returner.
The other former Black Bear anxious to return to the field is former offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin. He is the receivers coach for the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers after previously working with the running backs.
It will be his fourth season in Winnipeg.