Canadian Football League

Friday, February 25, 2005

In the span of nine days, the Ottawa Renegades have lost two Canadian "building blocks."
Mike Vilimek, the running back the Renegades selected second overall in the 2002 college draft, has agreed to terms with the Montreal Alouettes, the Citizen has learned. And while his departure leaves the Renegades with no fullbacks under contract, the club is nearing, or has completed, a trade with the Toronto Argonauts for all-star defensive lineman Eric England.
Vilimek, 26, joins offensive lineman Alexandre Gauthier, the first pick in 2002, and six other players who have bolted the Renegades since the CFL's free-agent signing period began last week. He signed for one year, plus an option for a second season, to join one of Ottawa's East Division rivals.
"Mike will not be back with the Renegades. I'm not at liberty to say where he is going, but you will find out in time," said Henry Vilimek, his father and agent.
Renegades head coach and general manager Joe Paopao was travelling last night and could not be reached for comment. He did not, however, participate in last-ditch attempts to secure Vilimek yesterday, which should come as no surprise.
The Simon Fraser product was a polarizing player in the team's front office, a favourite of former general manager Eric Tillman, but someone who soured on the franchise because Paopao refused to involve him in the offensive backfield.
Taken two selections ahead of B.C. Lions slotback Jason Clermont, now the top Canadian player in the league, Vilimek was loaded with athleticism and potential, but devoid of blocking experience. The former was enough for the Lions to want to trade up and draft Vilimek, an overture that was rebuffed by Tillman. The latter prevented him from seeing the field as a fullback, and many were convinced his skill set would never fit that position.
Despite a 6-4, 240-pound frame, Vilimek has nimble feet and soft hands. In three exhibition seasons, Vilimek ran roughshod over opponents, but that never convinced Paopao that he merited touches in the regular season.
He played on special teams and as an extra tight end in short-yardage packages. In 38 regular-season games, he touched the ball six times, partly because the Renegades almost never substitute on offence, and partly because the backs ahead of him were rarely injured.
In training camp last year, the situation should have reached a breaking point. Tillman suggested either promoting Vilimek to starting fullback and signing him to a new contract or trading him before he left with no compensation. Paopao did neither, believing Vilimek's vastly improved special-teams ability was too important to the club's chances. Minus a starting position, Vilimek was unwilling to sign an extension.
In free agency, Vilimek asked for $85,000 but was more concerned with his role in a prospective team's offence.
He wanted guarantees from Paopao on how many touches he could expect, but was never given a number because the coach rightfully said he couldn't keep such a promise. The Renegades told him he would be their starting fullback, but the Alouettes and others saw him more as a tailback, and said ball-carrying responsibilities would come more readily.
England, 33, was with B.C. in 2000 when Paopao was an assistant with the Lions. He became a free agent last week, but was quickly locked up by the Argonauts, making his availability via a trade peculiar.
In 2003, he led the CFL with 14 sacks and was named a CFL all-star. Last season, he tied for the CFL lead with six forced fumbles and recorded four sacks while battling through injuries


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