Josh Bourke

Offensive Lineman Enters
Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Rogerio Barbosa – Montreal Alouettes

Some people choose their passions. Some passions have a way of choosing you. And as Canadian Football Hall of Famer Josh Bourke can attest, some passions have a way of dragging you away by your ankles.

“I didn’t grow up playing football,” Josh admits. “Back then, in Windsor, there wasn’t great exposure for the sport. At least not for youth leagues.”

While in the seventh grade, Josh went on a ski trip to Blue Mountain with his mother. While there, he ended up taking a fateful chairlift ride with an older man.

“He and I started chatting,” Josh recalls. “This gentleman said to me, ‘You know, you’re a big kid. Have you ever considered playing football?’ And at the time, I hadn’t. I was always into sports, but my main passion at the time was baseball. I hadn’t even played any kind of organized football.”

Josh told the older man that he wasn’t interested. But the stranger was insistent.

“It turns out he was a football coach at Saint Mary’s Preparatory High School in Orchard Lake, Michigan,” Josh states. “He encouraged me to give the school a shot.”

Canadian Football Hall of Famer Josh Bourke played for the Montreal Alouettes for nine years.

The coach failed to sell Josh on the game. However, he did perk Josh’s interest in the school. After a quick tour, Josh enrolled at Saint Mary’s. But then, on his first day of high school, another coach approached him and said:

“Why aren’t you playing football?”

Finally, Josh admitted defeat.

All this is surprising enough. But what’s even more startling is how Josh’s early years on the field progressed.

“Honestly, I was pretty terrible when I first started,” Josh laughs. “I wasn’t even good enough to make the varsity team in my second year, which is pretty embarrassing! There were definitely times when I thought about quitting. But my parents instilled in me early on that the world doesn’t like quitters. That even if things don’t come easy, you have to stick with it.”

Still, despite these early disappointments, Josh continued to fall in love with the game.

“I loved the physicality of the sport,” Josh explains. “Growing up playing baseball, there’s not a lot of physical contact. But, oddly enough, I was just a big guy and enjoyed hitting people! I wasn’t a bully by any means, but I loved the controlled aggression and the technique involved—especially as an offensive lineman. It’s an art form.”

But what perhaps endeared the sport the most to Josh was the bond he formed with his teammates.

“I loved the camaraderie,” Josh states. “Even now that I’m retired, I don’t really miss the game that much. But I miss the guys. I miss the hotels. I miss the travelling. I miss the dinners, the parties, the events. I just loved being around the guys—they’re what kept me afloat during those tough times.”

During his teen years, Josh continued to play. And eventually, his talent caught up with his persistence. 

And then, in his own words: “I started beasting people,” Josh explains. “People said, ‘Woah. Where did this come from?’”

After high school, Josh was recruited by Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. 

“I chose to stay closer to home,” Josh explains. “The coaches there had a really good plan in place to get on me on the field sooner rather than later. If I’d gone to a bigger school, who knows? I might have had to wait years to get my chance.”

After university, Josh was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. The following season, Josh enrolled with the Montreal Alouettes—where he would remain for the next nine years.

“I started playing for Montreal right away, almost two weeks after I got there.” Josh explains. “And the rest is history!”

Josh’s career with the Canadian Football League has been a distinguished one. He earned himself a CFL Eastern All-Star every season, from 2008 to 2014. He was also named the CFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2011. And most significantly, he won two Grey Cups while playing with Montreal in 2009 and 2010.

Josh Bourke, in his own words, loved “beasting” people.

“I’ve won a lot of accolades, which is great,” Josh explains. “But the team accolades mean more to me than the individual ones. The two Grey Cups means more to me.” 

Even now, fourteen years later, the memory of the first Grey Cup win lingers with Josh.

“The year before, in 2008, we’d lost the Grey Cup during a home game,” Josh recalls. “We’d lost to Calgary. The following year we had a fantastic season, and we ended up playing Saskatchewan. It was an absolute grind! We were down sixteen points with seven minutes to go.”

Miraculously, the Alouettes were able to take control of the ball and score some points.

“We managed to get down to field goal range,” Josh states. “And we missed! We thought that was it. That it was over. But it turns out Saskatchewan had too many guys on the field, so they ended up bumping the filed goal up another ten yards. And that time, we scored.”

The victory that night remains Josh’s fondest memory of his career.

“Losing the Grey Cup the year before was heartbreaking,” Josh states. “But I still remember that last quarter like it was yesterday. That sequence of events is etched into my brain.”

And now, after a ten-year career, Josh has been admitted in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

But despite his numerous accolades, Josh has chosen instead to move forward with his life in the Detroit area, channeling his tenacity into a new profession. 

“I always knew that Sales would be my next step after football,” Josh explains. “I like the competitiveness of it. When I look to hire people, one of the main things I look for is if they were an athlete. They’ve been through the ringer. They’ve been prodded, they’ve been criticized. They’re used to losing. In Sales, you have to be able to hear “no” a lot more than you hear yes. If you get ten “no’s”, the eleventh yes makes it all worth it.”

And whatever the future holds for Josh, we’re confident that any setback will not slow him down for long. 

“It’s all part of my philosophy,” Josh stresses, “being the best at whatever I do in life.”

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