A 56-year-old Moncton man is striving to make a comeback to the CFL.
Retired four-season CFL defensive lineman Darin Burns underwent a weight loss transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now trying to make the cut to play a pre-season game for the Toronto Argonauts.
Burns said he wants to step foot on the field to honour the man who he says helped him with his troubled past, former CFLer Bruce Smith, who played the four final years of his career for the Argos from 1976 to 1979.
“It’s not to make the team as far as the season, it is to honour my friend Bruce and to bring some awareness to abuse for kids,” said Burns.
Burns says Smith, a former Argos captain, was “one of the top 100 players to play on the team.”
Burns, who grew up in Mississauga, Ont., said he crossed paths with Smith when he was 14 years old while on the way home from a football camp. He said he was living in a group home at the time and when Smith found out about his troubled childhood, he took him under his wing.
“I was raped and abused at the age of four and five years of age by my male babysitters,” said Burns.
Burns said Smith taught him all about the game. But, most importantly, he said he helped him face his demons.
“He became basically my father and he was the first person ever to show me unconditional love,” said Burns.
Burns said Smith died of cancer in 2013 and he is trying to cope with the loss.
“When Bruce passed away part of me went to the grave with him,” he said.
So, to honour his memory, Burns hopes to step on the field one more time wearing Smith’s number as one of the oldest players to suit up for a pre-season game with the Toronto Argos.
“Nobody should ever bet against me. My whole life has been a challenge,” he said.
It’s a Cinderella story that retired 10-year CFL veteran and executive director of the CFL Alumni Association Leo Ezerins said is gaining support from former players and football fans around the globe.
“You know, why not? You know, he has shown that his whole life he likes to take a long shot. He has certainly proven himself in a lot of areas,” said Ezerins. “I hope that the Argos and the league give him a shot.”
Burns said he played in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Montreal Alouettes, and Ottawa Rough Riders from 1985 to 1988 but was sidelined from regular-season play due in part to knee injuries.
He has spent more than a year getting back into shape and says he is the fittest he has been in decades.
Burns said he will play for the Moncton Mustangs of the Maritime Football League this upcoming season.
He said he will suit up for the club for a game on May 8 where he hopes to get noticed and achieve his ultimate goals to honour his friend and to help others open up about abuse.
“I am hoping that if I can change one kid’s life and make it better for them then I have accomplished something.”