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Micah Awe thinks about it and it’s almost like you can see him going back, standing on the field at Mansfield Summit High School in Arlington, TX.
He was younger, he says, five-foot-nine, five-foot-10, maybe 180 pounds. He was still a linebacker. High school-aged Micah Awe looked across the field at the running backs his team had in practice. They were huge.
“One of them was like a bowling ball. He was like five-foot-11, 230 pounds — in high school,” Awe said, emphasizing what he was dealing with. “We had a six-foot, 210-pound one and a six-foot, 215-pound guy.” He stops again for the reminder.
In high school.
“I remember one time the hole divided and it was just me and the bowling ball guy. His name was Taj. It was a natural selection thing.
“It was either run or hit him. And I just smacked him. That was kind of the revelation. If I can do that when I’m five-nine, 180 pounds and now I’m bigger, faster, stronger…I don’t really care how big the person is. I’m going to run straight into them.”
That moment was the birth of one of the hardest hitters that the CFL has today.
There haven’t been a lot of highlights in the Toronto Argonauts season thus far, but Awe — now 25 and an even six-feet and 225 pounds — has been fighting his way through the first third of his team’s season, blowing people up and trying to will his team to its first win of the year.
Along the way, Awe is establishing himself as one of the top young linebackers in the league. Through six games this year, he has 25 tackles (plus three on special teams), an interception and has forced and recovered a fumble, putting him on pace to make his third season in the CFL a career year. In spite of that, he sees more room for personal growth, which he thinks could help his team finally get into the win column.
“I know what our record is. But honestly, from my point I know that if I play better, if I’m playing at an all-star level, if I’m playing at a hall of fame-level, maybe we’ll win. That’s that’s my motivation,” he said.
Argos head coach Corey Chamblin said that what’s impressed him the most about Awe this season is the preparation he’s putting in. Awe’s a film junkie, watching extra tape with coaches after practice, studying opponents and trying to learn what they do and why.
“He’s played well in terms of increasing his game in terms of with his eyes. That’s the biggest thing with me,” Chabmblin said.
“You can see that his eyes are able to give him more information for him to be able to perform in a more instinctual way. And that’s the big thing, he’s becoming more of an instinctual player than he is just a see-ball, go-get-ball type of player.”
You’re never supposed to be allowed to choose your own nickname, but you might have to make an exception for Awe. Unhappy with the name he had in his previous year and a half with the BC Lions — Baba Yaga, a boogeyman-type character from the movie John Wick — Awe looked at his jersey number, looked at the news and genius struck.
CFL players are leaning, the same way that more than a quarter-million people that signed up for the ill-thought-out craze did, that storming Area 51 may seem possible in theory, but is much more difficult in real life.
On Thursday night, Bombers running back Andrew Harris will try his luck in Area 51.
“I was just watching film, he was going against Ottawa,” Awe said. “Second-and-seven, spread them out, it’s empty, he’s on the third receiver side. He does a little out route, makes the receiver miss and he gets 60 yards.
“It’s a challenge to me and I love it. I hope that situation happens (Thursday night). I’ll make the play. Harris is a good running back but to me it doesn’t matter who the running back is. I’m going to play you the same way, with the same focus. I’m going to try to hit you, I’m going to try to get you on a pass route, whatever it is.”
There have been big hits this season but Chamblin thinks Awe’s best work is still in front of him.
“I actually joke that there are some that he could have had that I really would have liked him to have,” he said.
“It’s amazing that I’m still on him about his tackling because he’s so powerful. He’s had some good hits, but he can have some real powerful hits if he decides to be more explosive in his lower body.”