Kevin Bourgoin, running backs coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, talks to a player during a recent practice. Credit: Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Rhe’an

When Kevin Bourgoin left his job as quarterbacks coach-offensive coordinator at Waterville’s Colby College to become the running backs coach with the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers a little over a year ago, he found himself “pulling all-nighters like I was cramming for exams in college.”

And for good reason.

He landed the job just a week and a half before training camp started and the CFL rules are much different than American football rules.

The fields in the CFL are longer and wider; there are 12 players instead of 11; they can have six players in motion at one time instead of one and there are three downs in which to pick up 10 yards and earn a first down instead of having four downs to gain 10 yards.

“I had never really watched a CFL game. So I was definitely cramming,” the 45-year-old Bourgoin said. “The head coach (Mike O’Shea) came in one day and said ‘We don’t expect you to learn this all in one week. Go home and get some rest. Take care of yourself.”

Bourgoin, a former University of Maine associate head coach/offensive coordinator, continued his crash course learning the different rules, the Blue Bombers’ offense, and his fellow coaches as well as the players.

“It was kind of cool for me. I’m always looking to learn. I like to lean. I had the opportunity to go to a new place where I learned something every single day,” said Bourgoin, who is now in his second season with the Blue Bombers. “I had never coached professional football before. I have an opportunity to work with professional athletes and it’s kind of cool because I have always been a college coach.”

Bourgoin, who added that he likes to learn about every position on the field, proved to be a quick learner.

The Blue Bombers went 12-6 during the regular season and led the league in rushing with 1,824 yards in 336 attempts. Running back Andrew Harris rushed for a league-high 1,035 yards and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian. He also caught 105 passes for 857 yards, becoming the first player in CFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards and gain 850-plus receiving yards in a season.

“Harris is from Winnipeg. He’s tough, he’s a smart guy and a hard worker. I think he’s also a great leader,” Bourgoin, whose injury-riddled Blue Bombers lost to Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs, said.

The CFL is very much a passing league, according to Bourgoin.

“You have be real efficient running the football because you only have three downs,” he explained. “In the states, a four-yard gain is a good run. Up here, it’s a five-yard gain. You don’t want to be in a second-and-long situation. It’s like being in a third-and-long situation in the states. We led the league in rushing last year but we only ran the ball 18 times a game. You throw the ball 80 percent of the time. It’s a more wide open game.”

That means one of his primary responsibilities is making sure his running backs are good blockers. Pass protection is key.

He said he is “much more comfortable” this season now that he understands the rules and the system.

“Not only was I trying to learn the rules last year, I was trying to learn a whole new offense,” he said.

Bourgoin, wife Amanda, the former softball coach at Bangor’s Husson University, and sons Brendan, who is 6, and 4-year-old James, are enjoying life in Winnipeg.

“It is a great experience,” Bourgoin said. “People don’t realize how beautiful Canadian cities are. We have five rinks within a minute of our house. Game days up here are awesome. We get big crowds for our games and our fans are awesome. They all get dressed up in blue and they call themselves the loudest fans in the CFL. And they’re very friendly people. They’ll see my Maine license plates and talk to me about Maine.”

His oldest son got to play between periods of a Winnipeg Jets NHL game.

Bourgoin started his coaching career at Colby before spending two stints at UMaine, the latter one from 2005-2016 in which he spent the majority of the time as the offensive coordinator.

He returned to Colby as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for one season.

“My time at Maine was a good experience. I had the opportunity to grow. Jack (head coach Jack Cosgrove) lets you do your thing,” said Bourgoin. “I was able to work there for 12 years which isn’t the case in a lot of places.”

Bourgoin left when Cosgrove retired following the 2015 season.

He has found the CFL to be much more unpredictable than other leagues.

“Anyone can beat anyone else on a given night,” Bourgoin said. “One of the big misconceptions people have in the states is they don’t realize how good the football is up here and the brand of football it is.”

The Blue Bombers are 2-2 so far this season.

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