More than a year into living in Canada, Kevin Bourgoin still often wonders, what is the temperature?

“It’s 22 or 23 degrees. Can you please tell me what that is in Fahrenheit,” Bourgoin said.

While he converts Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilometers to miles in his car, and liters to gallons at the gas pump, Bourgoin knows at its heart, football is football, even when the field is a little longer and played with 12 to a side.

A former offensive coordinator at the University of Maine and Colby College, Bourgoin is in his second season as running backs coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. The CFL season began a couple weeks ago. With Friday’s 56-10 win over the Montreal Alouettes, the Blue Bombers are 1-1.

Bourgoin coached for years at Maine, leaving after longtime head coach Jack Cosgrove announced his retirement. Bourgoin spent the 2016 season coaching at Colby. In the spring of last year, he got a message from Paul LaPolice, Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator. Bourgoin knew LaPolice from the latter’s days coaching at the University of New Hampshire. Earlier, LaPolice reached out to Bourgoin for info on quarterback Danny Collins, who Bourgoin coached at Maine and now plays for the Ottawa Redblacks. Bourgoin thought LaPolice was looking for information on another player. It turns out, LaPolice was looking for Bourgoin.

Paul Boudreau, Winnipeg’s special teams coach, reached out to Bourgoin. LaPolice wants to offer you a job. We need a running backs coach, and we start next week. Bourgoin discussed it with his wife Amanda, a Toronto native, and took the job. So far, the Canadian Midwest and the Bourgoin family are a good match. His car is still registered in Maine, and that’s been a friendly conversation starter with strangers.

“If you haven’t spent much time in Canada, you can’t appreciate the cities up here, how beautiful they are… The people are unbelievable. Once a month, someone stops me at a gas station and wants to talk because they see my Maine plates. They want to know what brings me here,” Bourgoin said via phone from his hotel in Montreal, as he prepared to coach the Blue Bombers that night.

Culturally, the change wasn’t great. Football-wise, Bourgoin has to adjust. The Canadian game is played on a longer and wider field. There are 12 players to a side. The first few times Bourgoin began to diagram a play on the board, he’d draw 11 spots out of habit. In American football, one player can go in motion. In Canada, six players can be moving on a given play. Bourgoin had to remind himself not to look for a flag when he saw players running all over the place before the snap.

“The first time you see six guys moving, you’re like, whoa, what is this?” Bourgoin said.

The biggest adjustment came in getting used to the CFL’s style of play. An offense gets three downs to make 10 yards, not four. That means the power run game Bourgoin had known his entire career does not exist. On the larger field, with fewer downs, power running between the tackles is less prevalent than a horizontal, side to side run game.

“A 4-yard run in the states is good. Up here, you run the ball 4 yards, it’s not good. Now it’s second and 6 and you have to get a first down. It took me half a season to figure that out,” Bourgoin said.

The play action pass, which for many American football teams is a key offensive weapon, is non-existent in Canada, Bourgoin said. If the run up the middle is a little-used play, why fake it to try to find an open receiver downfield? The defense isn’t going to buy it.

“You don’t see a play action fake and a quarterback take a shot over the safety,” Bourgoin said.

Winnipeg led the CFL in rushing last season, gaining 1,824 on 336 attempts. The Blue Bombers might run the ball 18-20 times per game, Bourgoin said, far less than the 40 times you might see in an average American college game. Friday’s win at Montreal was an aberration. The Blue Bombers ran the ball 38 times for 245 yards, about twice the number of carries the team will have in a typical game. But Winnipeg led 34-7 at the half, and played a game within a football game, Kill the Clock.

A Vermont native, Bourgoin enjoys life in Winnipeg, but he knows the coach’s life can be nomadic. After coaching two decades in college, this is his first professional football job. The Blue Bombers made the playoffs last season, but if the team falters, wholesale coaching changes could be made. That’s a fact of life in Bourgoin’s profession.

“We like it. We like the lifestyle. There’s a little more family time,” Bourgoin said of his family’s life in Winnipeg. “Pro, it’s tougher because you have to win. There’s that constant pressure of winning.”

The game is different, but the basics of running, blocking and tackling are the same. The overall pressure to succeed, that doesn’t change either, no matter what the rules are.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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