Mike Edem’s life in football started only after he gave up futbol.
Edem’s family moved from Nigeria to the Toronto area when Mike was 12 years of age.
“I was still kicking around a soccer ball,” the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ newest acquisition recalled with a chuckle Thursday. “I didn’t even know what a pigskin was.
“I picked up a football a couple of years after we moved here. All my friends played with the Brampton Bulldogs (minor football program). Twice a week at 5 o’clock, they’d have this football practice thing that they’d have to go to. Their moms would take them and I’d be left alone, waiting for them to come back.
“One day, one of their parents asked me, ‘Would you like to come check it out?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ I went and checked it out and liked it. The coach asked me if I’d like to try out and I said, ‘Sure.’ So I tried out — and here we are.”
On Thursday, the Roughriders acquired the 27-year-old Edem from the B.C. Lions in exchange for a conditional selection in the 2018 CFL draft. The Lions also sent Saskatchewan a conditional pick in that draft.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder can play either safety or linebacker and could help the Roughriders shore up their Canadian depth.
Edem overcame his late start in the game to land a spot with the University of Calgary Dinos. He played defensive back and linebacker with the Dinos and, in 2012, was named Canada West’s top defensive player.
He was selected by the Montreal Alouettes in the first round (third overall) of the 2013 CFL draft and cracked the Als’ lineup that fall.
Edem was named an East Division all-star as a rookie after recording 49 defensive tackles, nine special-teams tackles, five sacks, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He was Montreal’s nominee for the awards as the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian and most outstanding rookie.
But Marc-Olivier Brouillette replaced Edem as the Als’ starting safety the following season. Edem had five defensive tackles, 13 special-teams tackles and one interception in 17 games in 2014 — and his role was diminished further in 2015.
In October of 2015, he was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, with whom he played four regular-season and two playoff games.
He signed with B.C. as a free agent prior to the 2016 season and recorded 37 tackles and two interceptions in 17 regular-season games.
There were rumours this off-season that the Lions were trying to trade Edem — and that speculation came to fruition Thursday.
“I’m just excited to play football and excited for the opportunity to extend my career with the Roughriders,” he said from Calgary. “I want to give the fans the best of Mike Edem, to come there and put my best foot forward.
“I always strive to be the best and I’m going to try to continue to prove that.”
Edem could help the Roughriders with their Canadian depth, an area that head coach-GM Chris Jones wanted to address over the off-season.
Before acquiring Edem, Saskatchewan signed nationals like Brouillette, running backs Kienan LaFrance and Aaron Milton, and defensive tackle Eddie Steele in free agency. On Sunday, Jones and his staff added more Canadian prospects when they selected nine players in the CFL draft.
Edem has played previously with several Roughriders, including Brouillette, linebacker Henoc Muamba and defensive back Ed Gainey in Montreal, and defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh at the U of C.
The presence of those players — and Gaydosh in particular — could help Edem adjust to his new surroundings.
“Linden and I have spent the past few off-seasons together; we train in the same facility every morning at the same time,” said Edem, who returned to his studies at the U of C this off-season.
“Having someone there like that who you’ve seen over the course of two off-seasons and who you’ve been through the grind with, it makes going through the grind of the season that much easier.”
For Edem, the prospect of joining Gaydosh and others in Saskatchewan was invigorating.
“Everyone knows about the great history of their organization,” Edem said. “They’ve got an amazing fan base and they’re doing something exciting there with the new stadium. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”