Anthony Cioffi Emerging as a Playmaker With Redblacks

Photo credit: Scott Grant Photography

The Redblacks defense had to make a last-minute stop in Hamilton last Saturday to secure their victory. The Ti-Cats drove the ball all the way down to Ottawa’s 24-yard line before quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was sacked twice to end Hamilton’s chances at a game-winning touchdown. The first of those two win-securing sacks came from rookie and newly minted starter Anthony Cioffi.

It was only the second game for Cioffi as the starting strong side linebacker for the Redblacks. After a solid game in the win over the BC Lions, the 23-year-old had a breakthrough performance against Hamilton. He finished with five tackles and two sacks. Cioffi says the team’s veterans on defense have made it easier for him to transition from spot player to starter.

“A lot of the veteran guys on my side are teaching me what they learned through the years. Guys like Ky [Kyries Hebert] and Rico [Murray],” said Cioffi. “I’m comfortable because I’ve got those guys on both sides of me, communicating.”

Cioffi was upgraded to starter once former starting strong side linebacker Josh Johnson was released from the team on July 17th. Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said at the time that they wouldn’t have made the move if they did not feel good about the options they had in replacing Johnson. Now Campbell is singing the rookie’s praises, including complimenting the speed of Cioffi, a former state track champion.

“That is probably why we wanted to get him in there full-time. That’s what he has shown ever since he has been here,” said Campbell. “Plays the game the way you like it to be played, which is physical, fast and it has been really good so far.”

Cioffi was born in Springfield, New Jersey. After starring at Jonathan Dayton high school, he stayed home with a commitment to New Jersey’s foremost college football program: Rutgers University. Cioffi was a four-year starter with Rutgers, but went unselected in the 2017 NFL Draft. He signed a contract in May of last year with the Oakland Raiders, giving him a shot at making the team in training camp. He was waived from the team however just eight days before the start of the NFL regular season.

Six months later, Cioffi signed with the Redblacks for 2018, committing to his first-ever season in Canadian football. Cioffi smiles at where his football journey has taken him. From living and playing in New Jersey his whole life to Oakland for a summer and now Ottawa.

“It’s a totally different spectrum. I go from the east coast to the west coast. Now I’m back to the east coast and I’m north,” said Cioffi. “It’s a blessing and it’s a story I’ll have with me for my career.”

Although currently at linebacker for Ottawa, Cioffi has spent the majority of his playing career in the secondary. He began his time with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights as a cornerback, but shifted to free safety for his junior season and strong safety for his senior season. On the topic of his history with switching positions and versatility, Cioffi says it has given him a good understanding of how a defense functions as a whole.

“That’s how I like to learn, everything that has to do with the defense,” said Cioffi.

Speaking of the Redblacks defense as a whole, the unit has meshed early on under new defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. Ottawa has allowed the second least points in the CFL.

“We’re playing really good team defense. We are bending but not breaking. We are a doing a lot of the necessary little things that help us function as a whole,” said Cioffi.

This week, Cioffi and the Redblacks will travel to Toronto for a Thursday night battle with the Argonauts.