Alain Cimankinda had pretty much a dream start to his OUA football career with the Gryphons last weekend.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound defensive lineman had three solo and six assisted tackles, three and a half sacks for a loss of 22 yards and he broke up a pass in the overtime loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees to be named the league’s defensive player of the week.
“Everytime we practise, I always imagine myself in that type of situation and make sure I come out and do what I’ve got to do,” Cimankinda said after the game.
“He was disruptive on both running and pass,” head coach Kevin MacNeill said. “He did a great job.”
One of his sacks came with less than a minute and a half to go in regulation time and it forced Ottawa to have to punt the ball back to the Gryphons who moved it 34 yards in four plays to set up the tying 38-yard field goal by Gabe Ferraro with one second to go.
Despite the weekly honours, Cimankinda’s performance was tainted by the loss.
“At the end of the day, this is a team game. It’s not about Alain Cimankinda alone, it’s about the whole team,” he said. “Every time I step on the football field I expect myself to have this kind of game, but at the end of the day it’s about what the team did. What we all did as a group. It was a tough loss and it stops right there. I’m always going to imagine myself making these plays and having these kind of games.”
Cimankinda came to the Gryphons after red shirting at New Mexico Military Institute, an NCAA junior college.
“I’m pursuing law school so I figured coming back here to pursue law school was a better option than just playing one season over there. That’s why I made the move.”
Coming back to play in Canada meant Cimankinda had to make an adjustment back to the Canadian game. Biggest thing for a defensive lineman is that there’s a yard between the offence and defence when the play starts in the Canadian game and in the U.S. the offensive and defensive linemen are practically touching helmets right before the ball is snapped.
“It’s not that different,” Cimankinda said. “It’s a pass-heavy game (here) and over there it’s more a run-heavy game with no yard. Of course, the yard affects you and with three downs, it’s more a special team game than anything else.”
And there’s a lot more running for the linemen in the Canadian game. Including the end zones, the Canadian field is 30 yards longer and just less than 12 yards wider.
“There’s lots of running,” Cimankinda said. “I remember one of my first plays here. I was on the boundary side. I was chasing the ball from the opposite side and I was running and midway I was ‘Dang, this is a big, old field.’ We made the tackle on the numbers and I’m like ‘We had 15 more yards to go. Dang.’ Now I’m used to it. I put in extra conditioning just to get used to it.”
One of 12 children – seven boys, five girls – Cimankinda was born in Congo and his family moved to the Ottawa area when he was eight.
“The way I started playing football is pretty weird. I used to be just a home boy, hanging out at the crib, playing basketball and all that. My little brother and two of my older brothers started playing football first and at first I wasn’t really interested in the game, but I decided I didn’t want to stay at home alone so I pretty much moved into it. From there I fell in love with the game and I took it and ran with it.”
He’d played with high school, rep and provincial teams before he went to play CEGEP football in Quebec at Champlain-Lennoxville when Gryphon offensive coordinator Jean-Francois Joncas was head coach there.
“I went down to Quebec to play CEGEP at Champlain with coach Jonco,” Cimankinda said. “I did a year and a half over there, two seasons, and then went down south.”
Although he made his return to league play in the Canadian game last weekend, he said he didn’t have any jitters or a case of the butterflies going into the match.
“I’ve been around high-level football for a while. The only thing that was stressing me was just the matter of getting used to the yards and some of the rules changes because I went from playing American football to Canadian football,” he said. “That took me a while and that’s why I had a slow start, but once I got comfortable, it got to be big. I’m going to do big things and this team is going to do big things. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
That starts with a Labour Day Monday match with the Western Mustangs at London.
“We just need to execute better,” Cimankinda said. “We’ve got to make sure we remove the penalties from the game. We had a few of them. That definitely has to be out of it if we want to beat Western.
“Now we know our strengths and now we know our weaknesses and we’re going to work at it and get better.”
Game time Monday at Western’s TD Stadium is 7 p.m.
The Gryphons will return to Alumni Stadium for a 1 p.m. game Sept. 9 against the Windsor Lancers.