REGINA, Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan Roughriders free safety Tyron Brackenridge, acknowledged by his peers as one of the hardest-hitting players in the Canadian Football League, might be the sport’s equivalent to an inflatable clown punching bag.
He only knows how to bounce back up whenever his career takes a hit.
The former Washington State University defensive back, voted the CFL’s “Hardest Hitter,” will answer his next challenge when he squares off against Montreal wide receiver Chad Johnson. The defending Grey Cup champion Roughriders (9-5) visit the Alouettes (5-8) on Monday.
“He just kinda called me out,” Brackenridge said of Johnson, the former Oregon State star who became Ochocinco when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals. “We never really had like a personal relationship, but he decided he just wanted to call me out and start a little beef.”
In June, before the CFL season started, Johnson tweeted: “I will run through you or around you, whichever you prefer.”
Brackenridge: “ @ochocinco your cfl career will be short messing with me! You better ask your teammates or better yet find out for yourself.”
Johnson: “They speak highly of you but you’ll be dealt with RT @TBrack41: your cfl career will be short messing with me! You better ask your teammates.”
Brackenridge: “ @ochocinco they speak highly of me for a reason. It’s a thin line between tough & stupid. If your not looking out for #41 you’ll regret it.”
Few players really want a piece of Brackenridge between the wide lines of the CFL fields, where his closing speed and aggressive nature fuel his exploits.
At WSU, Brackenridge was academically ineligible in the 2005 season but made a name for himself as a fifth-year defensive back in 2006. A high point in the season was the Cougars’ 37-15 win at UCLA in his hometown of Pasadena, California.
“I got to start at the Rose Bowl in front of all my family from Pasadena and California,” Brackenridge said. “I had an interception and I could have had three if I didn’t drop two.”
The team’s 6-6 finish that year wasn’t good enough for a postseason bowl bid, but Brackenridge did get noticed by NFL scouts.
“Washington State was doing well at the time and had a lot of defensive backs in the NFL,” Brackenridge said. “I played in the East-West Shrine Game and got invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis.”
Brackenridge said his poor showing in the combine contributed him being passed over in the 2007 NFL draft, which preceded him signing as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs. He lasted two seasons with the Chiefs, although he did receive ample face time on the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” the documentary style reality show, and started for much of his rookie season.
After getting cut by the Chiefs, Brackenridge was tossed on the NFL scrap heap after stints with the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. He was 26 years old, too young to retire and too confident in his abilities to give up on pro football.
“I got caught up in a numbers game,” Brackenridge said.
He resurrected his career by turning his attention to the plains of Saskatchewan. In Regina, the place he calls home during the CFL season, the 6-foot, 189-pound defensive star has earned a reputation as one of Canadian football’s fiercest forces the past four years.
In the 2013 season, which ended with the Roughriders winning the CFL’s Grey Cup on their home turf at Mosaic Stadium, Brackenridge led the league with five forced fumbles and amassed enough jarring hits to earn the “hardest hitter” label.
Brackenridge said he was fined an undisclosed amount by the league in 2013 for a damaging helmet-to-helmet hit that left Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert with a concussion.
“He (Kackert) is a good friend of mine and we played together at Jacksonville,” Brackenridge said. “I put a nice little shot on him and they tried to say I led with my head, but you could see in the film that I kinda ran past him and gave him my shoulder and put him down. So many hits that I’ve had could have been questionable, but at the same time, they are taking my money and I’m not cool with that.
“I’m not a dirty player. These running backs are not defenseless. It’s not like I’m blindsiding these dudes coming out of nowhere. They see me coming and they’re putting their heads down.”
In a recent 31-24 loss to the visiting Calgary Stampeders, Brackenridge put on a dominant display despite his team’s dismal start.
In the first half, Brackenridge assisted in leveling Calgary’s Jeff Fuller with a high hit that knocked the wide receiver out of the game with a knee injury. Later in the half, Brackenridge blocked a field-goal attempt, epitomizing a bounce-back effort that saw the Roughriders recover from 24-0 deficit to tie the game.
“As a whole, we started off slow and battled back,” said Brackenridge, who calls San Diego home during the offseasons. “We showed that we stuck together, fought back and fell a little short.”
Next up, Montreal and Twitter friend Chad Johnson.
“It’s got me amped up and ready to play against him,” Brackenridge said. “It’s added a little fuel to my fire.”
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