Gainey finds success across the border

Ed Gainey has enjoyed a stellar 10-year career in the Canadian Football League.

Gainey finds success across the border
February 17
13:36 2021

Ed Gainey has seen the highs and lows of professional football. From being cut to being an All-Star, Gainey’s decade in the Canadian Football League (CFL) is truly a success story.

Through sheer perseverance, talent and tenacity, Gainey has carved out quite a career for himself in the CFL and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. His story should be a testament to all athletes to never give up on their dreams.

Gainey is a native of Winston-Salem and was a standout defensive back for Mt. Tabor before playing his collegiate career at Appalachian State University (ASU). ASU was one of the final visits for Gainey during his recruiting process and he quickly felt that was the place for him following his prep career. ASU was also coming off of three consecutive FCS (I-AA) national championships.

“They did a great job with recruitment and I went up that mountain and everything was covered in snow and I was sold,” Gainey said about his recruiting visit to App. State. “It was a beautiful place to be and a great football town and I was sold on the championships and the lay of the land. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could win playing football.”

His freshman year did not go the way Gainey wanted it to. He came into the season with a chip on his shoulder and was determined to play as a freshman and did. An injury to his ankle prohibited him from maximizing his playing time as a freshman.

“A lot of guys redshirt and take their time getting on the field, which is probably a good thing and something I should have done, but I was hardheaded and I just wanted to play,” he said about his freshman year. “I did everything I could. I worked hard in the weight room, summer workouts and winter workouts, I was there 24/7. 

“I was adamant to start as a freshman and I didn’t want to redshirt. Unfortunately, my freshman season I fractured my ankle right before camp.”

Gainey says he rehabbed the ankle for a couple of weeks and attempted to work out on the ankle during the third week. He continued to practice and play on the ankle even though he was not 100 percent. Once he entered the starting lineup later in the season, it was all he needed to show what he could do.

During his time at ASU, Gainey was selected to the Southern Conference All-Conference Second Team for 2009 and 2010. Going into his senior season, Gainey had aspirations of playing in the NFL. He became a team captain that year and was garnering some attention from pro scouts. Unfortunately, he made a mistake that potentially cost him a chance at the NFL. Thankfully, they were not the only professional league interested in his services.

“Going into my senior year, I definitely had the mindset that I was going to be scouted and go to the NFL,” he said. “I was being recruited by scouts from the NFL and I was just doing all that I could to be the player that I needed to be. From talking to that pro scout, I had the mind frame that I had a shot and I wanted to get on the radar and get invited to the combine, so that was my motivation.

“I feel like I accomplished my goal by becoming a team captain and going out there and leading by example as far as my play on the field. I sold myself short, because I got into some trouble at App. State, so that’s why my NFL career didn’t come.”

Gainey says he was out of football for six months and really had no knowledge about the CFL. He eventually worked himself back into shape and held a pro day at Mt. Tabor. He performed well and attracted the attention from a CFL general manager that was in attendance. He was offered a contract to play in the CFL soon afterward.

“He offered me a contract to play in the CFL and I went up there not knowing what to expect and I jumped out on a leap of faith and it was all good from there,” he said.  

Being on his own for the first time in a new country was quite the culture shock for Gainey. “I was really afraid, and I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to go up there and do anything that would get me in trouble like throwing a piece of gum on the ground, because I didn’t know the rules of the country. I didn’t know once I got to Montreal, that they were going to be speaking French and English. It was a learning experience to be honest.

“When I got there, it opened my eyes to see how diverse the world is and how many different cultures are out there and how people really look at America and their perspective on America. It’s a blessing and Canada is a beautiful country and a beautiful place to be.”

Gainey said people from the United States have a lot of misconceptions about Canada and the CFL. He said the talent level in the CFL is a lot higher than what people think. There are a lot of players from big time universities, along with former NFL players looking to return to the league. He says making it to the NFL is not just about talent and involves a certain level of politics.

“It’s a big opportunity for guys to add to their resume and it’s a stepping stone for guys to go up there and make a name for themselves so they can get a little bit more push and drive to the league, which is really a political thing,” he went on to say. “It’s a lot of things that come with the NFL that guys really don’t know. If you do what you have to do and keep your head down and stay out the way, your chances of making it become a lot better.”

The first team Gainey played for was the Montreal Alouettes. Gainey said he felt the team wanted him there; however, he did not play as much as he envisioned. He was released by the Alouettes and found his way to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Gainey didn’t really find his way in Hamilton either.

“Montreal and Hamilton believed in me, but it was like I was always on this leash that I couldn’t get off of,” he said. “I wanted my leash to be longer, but it was always short and every time I felt I was making progress, they would kind of pull me back and give me a reality check.”

Once Gainey arrived in Saskatchewan, the team believed in him from day one, he said. He said defensive coordinator Jason Shivers told him they would make him an All-Star the first day of training camp.

“I already believed that I was an All-Star caliber player, but just to hear that from my coach gave me that much more motivation to go out there and be what I could be,” Gainey said about his coaching staff.  

The cancellation of the 2020 season was a downer for Gainey. He says the loss of a season at the age of 30 was not a part of his plan.

“It definitely threw everything off and COVID came from way out of left field,” he went on to say. “2017 I really had a breakout year and the years that followed, I was not really having the seasons I was used to having. I kind of felt like other teams and offensive coordinators had me on their radar and I was getting picked on, so I was looking to come back strong last year. 

“They try to pull out the old card, but I feel like COVID hindered my progress. I am 30 now and getting toward the tail end of my career and people swear that I am old, but I know in my heart and body that I am young and ready to play.”

Gainey stated that there is talk that the 2021 CFL season is in jeopardy as well. The COVID-19 restrictions in Canada are different from the United States, so Gainey says there are reports the season may not be tangible. He is hoping that is not the case and is preparing for the season as if it will happen.

Gainey has continued to chase his dream even when there were obstacles in front of him. He says he would advise anyone with the dream of playing professional sports to never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

“The first thing I would say is to be real with yourself,” he said. “If you believe that you can be an NFL player, or an NBA player, or an MLB player, whatever the case may be, if you fully honestly believe that and you know you’re capable of that, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.

“On the other side of things, if you are being real with yourself and you haven’t really been the big star or impact player, the game of football will give you so many opportunities to transition into life that you would have never known. If you want to be a personal trainer, or sports agent, or even if you want to get into a different type of business, football and sports alone is just a stepping stone for you to transition into the real world once you realize you don’t have that avenue anymore. I would just say continue to believe in yourself and put in the work to get yourself to where you want to be. You just have to apply yourself and don’t lose faith, because you have to have that relationship with God.”

Gainey wants to continue playing until he can’t play anymore. He says as long as he is contributing to his team, he wants to play, and he wants to eventually make the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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