How John Chick has found success on and off the CFL, NFL and NCAA fields
By: Andrew Bucholtz
Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defensive end John Chick has had quite the journey. He was born in Wyoming, then went to Utah State for college, had a brief NFL stint with Houston, and then wound up with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After success in Saskatchewan, Chick returned to the NFL from 2010-12 with Indianapolis and Jacksonville, then came back to Saskatchewan for three seasons before joining Hamilton last year after the Roughriders cut him. The 34-year-old Chick has won two Grey Cups (with Saskatchewan in 2007 and 2013) and has earned three CFL All-Star nods, plus a selection as the league’s most outstanding defensive player in 2009. He recently spoke to CFLPA.com about his journey, and said he started off at Utah State (also the alma mater of legendary CFL QB Anthony Calvillo) thanks to the Aggies being the only NCAA Division I school that offered him a full scholarship at his preferred position.
“A major reason I chose Utah State was I had a goal to play Division I football, and it was the only full offer I had to play D-I football and as a defensive end,” Chick said. “The other offers were to play tight end, and I was always a defensive guy at heart.”
Chick said he definitely heard stories about Calvillo during his playing career with the Aggies, but focused more on the previous alumni from his own side of the ball.
“I definitely would have heard of Anthony and anyone who still knew him from his time there always spoke very highly of him,” he said. “It wasn’t always as relevant to me until I was in the CFL because I was a defensive guy, but I always had tremendous respect for him. Guys I looked up to were either guys I played with or a guy like (long-time Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle) Merlin Olson who played d-line and was heavily revered, not only locally, but as a professional.”
Chick had a solid college career at Utah State, including 12.5 sacks (fifth nationally) in his senior season, but went undrafted by the NFL in 2006. He signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent, but was cut in training camp, which he said led to him heading to the CFL in 2007 (but not before almost taking an arena football deal).
“I knew I loved football and believed I could play professionally,” he said. “When it didn’t work out at 1st, I had all but signed a contract with the LA Avengers, an Arena 1 team, before I got a call from the Saskatchewan Roughriders. When I was told it was great professional football, and in fact like the college game day experience except without having to go to class, I was sold!”
Switching from American to Canadian football can be a large challenge, especially for defensive linemen given the one-yard neutral zone and the lessened focus on the ground game. Chick said it took him a little while to adapt.
“There is always some adjustments going back and forth between the US game and Canadian. The run game is probably the biggest difference between the two. Rushing the passer is more similar except for [the neutral zone]. In fact, I believe it to be a bit tougher up here because that o-lineman doesn’t have to move as far to get between me and the QB, so I believe you have to be much more efficient with your pass rush moves to get to the qb before he gets rid of that ball.”
Chick soon made an impact, though, recording five sacks and 21 tackles in 13 games. He then went on to be a key part of the Riders’ Grey Cup victory, notching three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in Saskatchewan’s 23-19 win over Winnipeg. He said it was amazing to be on such a good team so early in his CFL career, and to come away with the league’s top prize in his first season.
“Man! It was unbelievable, really a dream come true,” he said. “I was a rookie in this league, maybe a bit disgruntled from my NFL experience at that point, andI had a chance to prove myself. To end up in the game and to win the game with a pretty awesome personal performance as well was incredible!”
Chick said although he was new to the league then, it also meant a lot to him to be part of the Riders’ first Grey Cup victory since 1989.
“Saskatchewan is a football province, and to be part of bringing the Cup back after such a long period was just incredible,” he said. “The only downfall to doing that in your first season is that is always the expectation ever since!”
In 2009, Chick had one of his best seasons, recording 28 tackles, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles in 16 regular-season games. That led to him being named the league’s most outstanding defensive player, which he said was a special moment for him. However, he thought it was even more important that he and the Riders were able to recover from a first-round loss in 2008 and return to the Grey Cup (where they narrowly lost 28-27 to Montreal).
“Another great experience! It’s always an honor and humbling to be recognized for your work,” he said. “The even bigger thing that year was what we did as a football team and in particular as a defense. It seemed we were doubted by all. Outsized, outmanned, out athleted by all, or though it was thought, but we took very average with very unconventional to the peak and went to and should have won the Cup again. I’m not even sure what records or whatnot we achieved that year but it went along with a lot of what I believe; hard work and belief can outdo talent anytime that talent doesn’t work hard. I even think it goes beyond that to who wants it the most and what are you willing to give. Though we didn’t win the ring, I will never forget that year.”
Chick left for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts that offseason, and said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He wound up spending three seasons in the NFL, on the Colts’ practice roster in 2010 and then playing some games with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 and 2012. He said he had some good experiences on his NFL return, and doesn’t regret taking that shot.
“As much as we all love football, we all know it doesn’t always love us back,” he said. “ You always have to take your opportunity. With an average career of 3 years, you never know when the next game or practice is your last, and it has always been about seizing the opportunity. I was proud of who I remained to be and of what I put on tape. That is and always will be our resume and I was the same guy there I was here, relentless to the whistle and backed down from nobody. I had some great experiences, and some not-so-great, and learned a lot! NFL or CFL, it’s all been awesome!”
Chick headed north of the border again in 2013, and returned to Saskatchewan. He said returning to Regina was a good fit for him, his wife Catherine, and their children (they had six children at the time, and now have eight).
“We loved our experience there before and had great connections in the community, as well as former teammates who were still there,” he said. “We felt a loyalty, that if it could work why wouldn’t we? Plus we believed and always have that we could always help contribute to getting to and winning a Grey Cup!”
Chick did in fact get to a Grey Cup that first year back, recording 36 tackles and eight regular-season sacks along the way, and he got to lift the Cup again after a 45-23 win over Hamilton. He then had even a better season personally in 2014, recording a league-high 15 sacks and being named the team’s most outstanding player nominee, but Saskatchewan fell to 10-8 and lost in the West semifinal. And 2015 saw another good year for Chick (11 sacks and 40 tackles), but a dismal one for the Riders, who went just 3-15 and missed the playoffs.That led to the team bringing in Chris Jones as head coach and general manager that offseason, and he cut Chick (as well as fellow beloved veteran Weston Dressler) in training camp. Chick said that news was hard to take.
“Absolutely! It doesn’t matter what profession or for whom you’re working, that is always difficult to cope with, especially when you pour yourself into it.”
He said his faith helped him persevere, though.
“At the end of the day ,you always realize that is a part of life and you move on. You have to. I always believe in conducting myself a certain way regardless of the circumstances or what others may think of me. It has been a blessing for us, and we have found that in all of life, as difficult, or disappointing as things may ever seem, that when we work through them with faith and sweat, the Lord always ends up providing the blessing. And He always has!”
Chick wound up signing with Hamilton as a free agent, reuniting with his 2007 head coach Kent Austin in the process. He said familiarity with Austin and with the Tiger-Cats’ high-pressure defensive scheme played a larger role.
“There were multiple factors that played into that,” he said. “Definitely having some familiarity with Kent Austin and his family values played into it and having had won a Grey Cup under him once before. Also, having watched the defense as a whole here for a number of years, especially how they provide pressure and cause turnovers. Those are two things I believe in tremendously, and know and firmly believe don’t come without practicing.”
Chick said he’s enjoyed his time with the Ticats so far, but would love to help them get back to the Grey Cup.
“It has been great to add what I do to this defense and things have gone fairly well. However, tying in with the Grey Cup question from earlier. The cup is the goal and what we set out for. Personal accolades are nice, but the goal is the cup and what makes lasting memories, so the rest is to be determined.”
Beyond his play on the field, Chick said his primary hobby is his family.
“Haha, my family is my hobby or I guess making my family, haha! Seriously, I love getting to be dad, so it’s either helping coach something, practice something, play, teaching, or what have you. We try to surround ourselves in our faith and stay active in our church. Outside of the family ,we love any opportunity to get together with friends and family and I especially love games. So, if we ever get that opportunity I’m in, especially if it’s Settlers of Catan.”
Chick’s in the middle of his ninth CFL season. He said the league has been a tremendous place for him, and he’s happy he wound up in Canada.
“I’m proud of my career and believe I have always played the game the way it’s intended,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey and I have a lot of great memories. It’s a fantastic league and I believe I’ve left my mark on it, with more to give. And I always play relentless!”
Chick said he’s thrilled that he’s been able to live out his dream of playing professional football, and that it’s come thanks to a lot of hard work and a willingness to overcome obstacles (including his Type 1 diabetes). He said he owes a lot to the support of his family and friends as well, and he’s happy he’s been able to balance his football career with his family and the rest of his life.
“What I am most thankful for is that I had a dream or dreams and never stopped chasing it,” he said. “It wasn’t just one-sided. I always believed in working to be the best at all that I do. What I am most proud of is that none of my dreams superseded me living my life. I have been blessed with amazing an amazing wife and eight wonderful children, amazing family and friends, good health, an amazing football career and faith. I often get the question ‘How do you do it?’ Besides a saint for a wife, I think how would I have done it without them, or any one of those aspects of my life, including diabetes. My hope is to leave a mark and to be an inspiration to all to live your life. Don’t put X, Y, or Z on hold to pursue any of the others. Have faith, work your tail off, and the Lord provides the rest.”