In 2014, Carl-Olivier Prime experienced both emotional extremes of his football career. His sophomore season began in a low place, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats came out of the gate with just one win in the first seven games. After an unpredictable season, Prime experienced the high: playing as the Tiger-Cats’ starting fullback in the Grey Cup. By the end of the night however, Prime was back down to the low.
“Even though we lost, it was a great experience,” remembers Prime.
Making the most of a Grey Cup loss fits well with Prime’s style; he has a penchant for seizing opportunities and moving on. The clearest demonstration is Prime’s start in football.
“I didn’t choose football,” he claims. “Football chose me.”
Prime had recently moved to Laval when a coach stopped him to ask if he had ever considered playing football.
“Then, next thing you know, I’m in pads and playing for the first time at the age of thirteen,” says Prime.
The opportunity came, and Prime seized it.
Starting out, Prime lined up at tailback. He played the position through high-school and into his collegiate career at Wagner College. In his first season at Wagner, the football team was working on its trenches with the infamous Oklahoma drill. The Oklahoma drill is so named because it was developed by Oklahoma Sooners’ Hall-of-Fame Coach, Bud Wilkinson. The drill is a full contact battle between a defensive and offensive player. The defensive player attempts to shed his blocker and tackle a nearby running back within a confined space marked by blocking bags. The Oklahoma Drill is designed to inspire a tough and physical mindset, and is even sometimes implemented to celebrate the first day of full-contact practice.
Although a running back at the time, Prime was participating in the Oklahoma drill to refine his blocking.
The coach whistled the drill live and with a grunt of exertion, Prime exploded off his mark and met the opposing linebacker with a smash of facemasks. Channeling the physical nature of the drill, Prime grappled the opposing linebacker, and brought him to the ground with so much force that he injured the linebacker’s shoulder.
The injury was enough to keep the linebacker out of the lineup for the next game. And who took his place?
Who else, but Prime?
Prime played linebacker for the rest of his collegiate career, and was drafted by the Tiger-Cats as a linebacker in 2013. After a brief stint with the Indianapolis Colts, Prime joined the Ticats in September of his draft year. He played out the season, predominantly on special teams.
As a special teams player, Prime learned the blocking skills and conditioning that would help him later in his career.
“As Coach Jeff Reinebold used to say, there are only 17 things you have to learn to play football, and you can transition those things from special teams, to defence, to offence. It’s all the same fundamentals,” says Prime.
Going into training camp in 2014, Prime received a phone call. The Ticats coaching staff had a proposition for him. His experience at running back, linebacker, and special teams all pointed to one conclusion: fullback.
Prime agreed, naturally.
“At first, the hard part was the technique. I played hurt in a game in Winnipeg early on, and the thing is, when you get hurt a little bit, you have to be able to rely on your technique. I really didn’t have the technique yet, but I was a good athlete that could block,” says Prime. “I’ve been practicing blocking with the offensive line ever since.”
Prime has the technique down after three straight seasons of 18 starts at fullback. It seems Prime has found his place, and it just took numerous years in football, and many seized opportunities to find it.
This season, Prime hopes to return to the high he experienced early in his career.