LAKE FOREST – It hardly was conventional how the oldest player at Bears rookie minicamp made it to Halas Hall.
“It’s been an interesting road. It’s amazing how things work sometimes,” said Bears long snapper Chad Rempel, a 31-year-old former CFL long snapper, receiver and ... national bobsled champion.
If Rempel doesn’t break his leg in the final game of the 2009 CFL season, if the Toronto Argonauts don’t need a long snapper, if Rempel doesn’t cross paths with Bears rookie punter Patrick O’Donnell, he might not be in position to compete with Brandon Hartson to be the Bears’ next long snapper if Patrick Mannelly retires.
He was a third-round pick in the 2004 CFL draft after a productive college career catching the football at the University of Saskatchewan (120 catches for 2,352 yards and 17 touchdowns), but injuries forced him to bounce around, as Rempel had stints with five CFL teams – including Marc Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes.
One offseason, Rempel found himself on the track – an icy track, that is – as the break man for Lyndon Rush’s bobsled team.
“Out of college, I did some testing for them. I had a track background; I was a bit of a bigger guy and they want bigger athletes,” Rempel said Sunday after the final day of the Bears’ rookie minicamp. “They called me years later and said, ‘We’re ramping up our program for the 2010 Olympics, why don’t you go out and see what you’ve got?' "
On March 22, 2009, their four-man bobsled team won the Canadian national championship.
Rempel signed with the Argonauts that summer as a slotback, but suffered a broken leg in the season finale, and that kept him from continuing with the championship bobsled team in the 2010 Winter Olympics, “but it was quite the experience,” he said.
In 2010 training camp, Rempel, who never had snapped a ball before, had to pitch in when two of the Argonauts’ long snappers got hurt.
“Coach says, ‘Anybody ever snapped before?’ I’m kind of a goofball. I was a former quarterback, kind of tossed it through my legs and the next thing I know, he says, ‘I’m going to need you to start working on that,' " Rempel recalled. “Four weeks later, I ended up snapping my first game."
Rempel still played some tight end and fullback until 2013, when he made the full transition to long snapping to prepare for an eventual shot at the NFL.
With the 2012 Grey Cup on his résumé, Rempel said he was ready to re-evaluate his goals and "take the next step." He went to Florida to train with NFL punters and kickers, where he met O’Donnell, who was preparing for the draft.
O’Donnell asked Rempel to help him out between the combine and the draft, which Rempel said was a “no-brainer.” And when Joe DeCamillis and the Bears worked O’Donnell out, they noticed Rempel.
"I did really well, I think [DeCamillis] liked the way Pat and I worked together, one thing led to the next and I got a workout here, officially, and signed," Rempel said, and that allowed him to reunite with O'Donnell, the Bears' sixth-round pick, at the rookie minicamp.
“It’s gone really great. As an older guy, rookie situation, I think a lot of the players have treated me with a lot of respect. It’s a great locker room, that’s the one thing I noticed from Day One. Everyone was very welcoming, right from the front office all the way down to the players. It’s been a great experience.” Rempel said.
One of the veterans that was seen at rookie minicamp has been a big help for the special teamers, including Rempel.
"Working with a guy like Robbie Gould, who’s one of the greatest, has been invaluable," Rempel said. "The detail and the work ethic that he has every day, I’m learning, and I love that, because I’m never settled or comfortable with where I’m at in my game, and he’s always pushing for that next level too and we kind of feed off each other with that, and it’s been great."
Rempel said O’Donnell, the combine workout warrior, is still the best athlete in the special teams room, and to not count out Gould in that competition, but we know who would win a bobsled race.
Is there anything Rempel can take from the ice to long snapping?
“There’s not much,” he said, laughing. “Not much correlation there.”