Henoc Muamba says family, not money, was biggest factor in his signing with Argonauts

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Henoc Muamba says family, not money, was the determining factor in his decision to become a Toronto Argonaut.

The veteran linebacker signed a one-year deal with Toronto on Tuesday after becoming a CFL free agent Feb. 9. Financial details weren't divulged but Muamba told reporters Thursday he took less in order to play closer to neighbouring Brampton, Ont., where he lives with his wife and their two young daughters.

"I think there's a lot of value in me being home," said Muamba. "The fact I'll be able finish games, finish practices and come back to my girls and my wife on a daily basis, it's going to be unique and special to me.

"It's not even about a price tag as it is the value I get from being home that matters most to me. Beyond that, being able to play for a GM like Mike (Pinball) Clemons) to me, is comparable to nothing. He's been a mentor of mine prior to taking this job and to be able to play for him is an honour."

Playing close to home will definitely be something new for the six-foot, 230-pound Muamba, who grew up in Mississauga, Ont., He played collegiately at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., then in the CFL with Winnipeg (2011-13), Montreal (2015, 2018-19) and Saskatchewan (2016-17) as well as the NFL (2014-15 with Indianapolis, 2016 with Dallas).

Muamba, 32, had 93 tackles and a sack in 2019 with Montreal when he was named the CFL's top Canadian. He''s been durable and very productive the last three years, having missed just two regular-season games, while averaging 94 tackles annually.

Muamba registered career highs in tackles (108) and sacks (five) in 2018.

"It's not my first time being a free agent … every time has been different for me as far as the priorities and what I'm looking for when I enter free agency," Muamba said. "For me to make the move to Montreal, I think it would've taken a lot from the Montreal side and I just didn't feel like there was enough done on that side to bring me back.

"Like I said, the beautiful thing is I'm able to spend more time with my family, be home and come back and sleep in my own bed after practices, after games. That 's the major thing."

The signing of Muamba highlights a busy off-season for Toronto (4-14 in 2019). The CFL cancelled the 2020 campaign due to the global pandemic.

Toronto has signed youngsters like quarterbacks Nick Arbuckle (27) and Antonio Pipkin (25) and Canadian linebacker Cameron Judge (26). But it has also brought many veterans in their 30s — including defensive linemen Charleston Hughes (37) and Odell Willis (36) and Canadian offensive lineman Philip Blake (35) — prompting concerns about an increased likelihood of injury.

"I can't tell you about everybody else but I know I feel great," Muamba said. "To be honest, numbers speak for themselves, I don't know how much defending I need to do.

"This is a huge benefit … I think we're more mature, we understand what the game demands from teams, from greatness and for success as a whole. I think it will help us take that step into unity a lot faster."

If Toronto faces a challenge with the abundance of new faces, Muamba said it will be coming together as a unit.

"I know the biggest thing is going to be about jelling," he said. "The faster we can jell, play together and understand one another the better we'll be.

"I think we've got the talent, that's not the question."

Muamba said the year without football has provided two significant benefits. In addition to spending more time at home, Muamba hasn't had to endure the constant physical pounding of a season.

"I feel rejuvenated," he said. "Taking the year off, to be honest, has been amazing as our second daughter just turned two months old (Wednesday).

"I'm not getting any younger but, hey, a year like that away from so much contact only does good for your body."

However, Muamba has had to deal with heartache.

His mother-in-law, Elizabeth Tweneboah, died last June at age 66 after contracting the novel coronavirus. Then in January, longtime agent Jonathon Hardaway died suddenly of a heart attack.

"There's a lot that's happened the last year and I don't think I'm the only one to have lost someone so I don't think it makes me special or different," Muamba said. "We always talk about how football is a team sport … I was able to see my true team and the people around me who supported and encouraged me even when I felt it was difficult.

"It's important for everyone to understand even when you go through the darkest times in your life, there's still a lot of strength you possess within you to be able to overcome it."

After Hardaway's death, Muamba's older brother Cauchy — a former CFL player — stepped in to provide assistance. Muamba said his elder sibling is close to becoming a certified CFL agent and will officially become his representative upon certification.

"I've only had one agent," Muamba said. "It was something special for me to have been with Jonathon Hardaway and for me to have my brother in the near future represent me is awesome.

"I'm looking forward even to his growth in this new field for him. I'm excited to see the guys he'll bring on and represent after me. It's exciting for me to be there for him as well as him be there for me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March18, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press