Jake Wieneke doesn’t even have to be present for his influence to be noted and appreciated.
“I always joke that my wife can always tell when I spend time around Jake, because he just has this ability to bring out the best in people and look for the best in people,” said Jared LaCoste, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ team chaplain.
“Sometimes I’ll come home and she’ll say, ‘You hung out with Jake. You just have this positive attitude, through the roof, beyond what you would normally have.’
“It’s just a testament to how he doesn’t conform to anything else. He is who he is, and unashamedly so, and that is one thing that I really do respect about him.”
It was fitting, then, that LaCoste had the honour of presenting Wieneke with the Gord Barwell Award on Saturday at Athletes in Action’s annual Grey Cup weekend breakfast.
The award — named in memory of a key member of the Roughriders’ receiving corps from 1964 to 1973 — is presented annually to a CFL player who exemplifies Christian character and leadership on and off the field.
“It was a shock,” Wieneke said from Hamilton. “They did a really good job of keeping it quiet all week.
“It was funny, because I rode over to the breakfast with Jared and I asked him, ‘Is there anything expected of me today? Am I just eating breakfast and talking with people at my table?’ All week, we’ve been doing different speaking engagements and stuff, so I just wanted to make sure. He kind of said no. Then I got that award and I got up there.
“It was pretty special. I almost started tearing up when he was talking about me and when he called me up. It was pretty awesome.”
Wieneke did receive a few seconds’ notice from Montreal Alouettes team chaplain Lorenzo DellaForesta.
“I was sitting at the table with Lorenzo and he kind of tapped me on the side and said, ‘You might want to stop eating and pay attention,’ ” said a chuckling Wieneke, who spent his first three CFL seasons with Montreal before signing with Saskatchewan in February.
“Then I heard Jared talking. He was explaining a bit about how it was a tough season and I thought, ‘It kind of sounds like me and how my season went …’
“It was definitely a shock and I was just so grateful.”
Wieneke, who had a league-high 11 touchdown receptions with the Alouettes en route to being named a CFL All-Star in 2021, played in only six games with Saskatchewan.
He was a healthy scratch for the final half of the 2023 season — a development that did not even minutely affect his perpetually pleasant and positive demeanour.
“The one thing that always stands out to me about Jake is that he chooses to see the good in everything,” LaCoste said.
“If you’ve spent any time around him, you’ll know that he’s the consummate optimist. I look back on his year and I think that most athletes would look at the situation that they found themselves in and there would be some bitterness or some resentment or even a change of character. I never saw it once.
“He was the same Jake, whether it was at the stadium with his teammates or whether it was with Brenda and the kids at home when we would spend time with them outside (of Mosaic Stadium).
“There was just a consistency about who he was in every different area that he found himself in. That’s something that I think speaks volumes about his character.”
And about his faith.
“Something really cool that happened was the pastor at our church — Father Steve at Christ the King — actually gave me the key to our church,” Wieneke said. “I was able to stop by the church every single morning on the way to the facility and pray.
“There were a lot of days when during my drive over when maybe I wasn’t in a great mood and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know about the day. It’s going to be a tough day.’
“Every time I left the church, I had a peace and I had a joy and I had a sense of purpose and I remembered why I was here.
“That was how I was able to have joy. That’s how I was able to come to work every day with a smile and be excited to see my teammates and be excited to go to practice and be excited to go to work, even amidst the uncertainty and the times that were hard.”
Brenda Wieneke — who gave birth to the couple’s third child, Felicity, on June 28 — was a pillar of strength and support throughout the season.
“My amazing wife was right there with me,” Jake Wieneke said. “She was encouraging me daily and praying for me daily and praying with me.
“It was just amazing to come home after a hard day or when things weren’t going great for her to be there and to be able to talk with her. She supports me through good or bad, rain or shine.”
Wieneke is the third Roughrider in a six-season span to receive the Barwell Award, following Henoc Muamba (2017) and Cody Fajardo (2021).
“I’m not the type of person who necessarily likes to get awards, but this is definitely a special one because it displays who I am and who I really strive to be as a man,” said Wieneke, 29, who was named the East Division’s top rookie in 2019.
“I want to be a man of God. I want to be someone who reflects Jesus in everything that I do. If I was to get any award, I think this is the most powerful one.
“Ultimately, the most important thing in my life is my walking relationship with Jesus and to reflect Him everywhere I go. To get an award for doing that is pretty special.”