The Montreal Alouettes have had several dynamic kick returners over the years, but there was always something special about Ezra Landry. He was unique. After all, how often did you see a professional football player listed at 5-foot-2? The New Orleans, LA native was with the Als from 2004 to 2006 before a knee injury cut his career short.
The football world can be very small. Before landing in Montreal, Landry was on the Edmonton Eskimos practice roster. The first person to give him a real opportunity in professional football was a coach on the Esks staff by the name of Danny Maciocia.
“Ezra Landry was dynamic; Ezra Landry was capable of flipping the field on you on a return,” Maciocia said. “Ezra Landry was so spectacular that he created momentum that carried you to victory. He was a difference-maker. He was a joy to watch when he was on your side.”
After his first training camp, Edmonton kept Landry on the practice roster. He was heartbroken by that decision and even considered returning home to Louisiana, but veterans like Harold Nash and Mike Pringle told him to stick around. In the end, former Als GM Jim Popp plucked Landry off the Edmonton practice roster and brought him to Montreal.
Landry made an immediate impact on field for the Alouettes.
In 2004, his first with Montreal, he played in 13 games and managed to return two missed field goals for touchdowns, and he also took a punt to the house.
So, how does a 5-foot-2 kick-returner have so much success at the pro level?
“Speed, speed, speed, speed,” Landry said. “I ran track in college my last year and I won the conference (title). That year of running track really made me a much stronger runner.
“I was also the baby of my neighborhood. All the guys (I hung out with) were older. My mother hated that I ran with a lot of older guys (laughs). Playing and fighting with older guys made me rough. That helped me a whole lot. Whenever I played against guys my age, I just felt I was on another level, and I kept that mindset. I also did martial arts. I was a black belt in karate. I did that as a kid, and it kept me really disciplined (throughout my football career).”
Today, Landry is using his time to mentor student-athletes at the Overtime Academy, which he founded about two years ago. The mentorship program focuses on a young athletes’ mental health and some of the struggles they may encounter in school, in life or if they make it to the professional ranks.
“It’s so needed,” Landry said of his decision to start the Overtime Academy.
“I love to help. I love to be around sports. Everybody thought I was going to coach. I never saw myself coaching on the sideline, but I loved the recruiting side of it. This kind of keeps me around the game. I put so much into the game.”
Landry has been mentoring young people for most of his adult life, but it wasn’t until he had a conversation with one of his mentors, Dr. Hilton LaSalle, that Overtime was born. LaSalle and Landry met at Southern University through the former Alouette’s uncle. Dr. LaSalle was working for the school at the time, while Landry was a student.
The first time ‘doc’ came to Montreal to watch Landry play was back in 2004. The Als were hosting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. All Landry did was return a missed field goal for a touchdown. Dr. LaSalle still displays that football proudly in his office.
Now, the two have come together to leave a lasting impact in the lives of so many different people.
“Athletes deal with a lot of unique mental-health challenges that are unique to them,” Dr. LaSalle told MontrealAlouettes.com. “What we realized is, who is having these conversations with them?”
Some of the specific challenges that these programs tackle have to do with financial literacy, and family members and friends asking for money. They also teach athletes how to examine detailed contracts. They make sure that these young people can communicate properly, so that they know what is and isn’t appropriate to say in the media and on social media. There’s also a special emphasis placed on mental health.
The Overtime Academy doesn’t only look after student-athletes. They also have programs for coaches, so that they can set the correct example for the players they’re mentoring daily. They also work with the parents of these athletes, so that they’re able to guide their children through the recruiting, academic and sporting processes.
“We’re changing lives,” Landry said. “That’s really been moving me. Changing these young people’s lives and giving them these opportunities.
“Nobody should be able to tell you what you can and can’t do. That definitely has a lot to do with the Overtime program. Don’t let anyone get in your head and take you away from your dream.”
If you want more information on the Overtime Academy, here’s a link to their website: https://www.overtime.team/the-founders