Looking ahead to this month's 2019 uOttawa Gee-Gees Touchdown Dinner in collaboration with and support from 1881 Gee-Gees Football Alumni Association, uOttawa is pleased to profile each of its new Football Hall of Fame Inductees. Ousmane Tounkara joins this year's class as a member of the Gee-Gees from 1994-1997. Named OQIFC Most Outstanding Player in 1997, he was the MVP of the Dunsmore Cup in that same season. He went on to play with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for three seasons.
As both a CFL and uOttawa Alumnus, Tounkara is excited to be recognized by the same school that had given him "a life changing experience."
"Playing and going to school at Ottawa was a great experience, I was lucky to have a great group of friends and had wonderful coaches, such as Marcel Bellefeuille and Larry Ring, which I got to know on a personal level and appreciated and still appreciate everything they have done for me."
Being a varsity athlete is a special time for any university student, creating memories and bonds that last a lifetime. For Tounkara, his time at uOttawa was made doubly special has he was a rare multi-sport athlete, also playing for the men's basketball program. His few seasons playing both sports was rewarding, but also tough.
"This was challenging," he remarked, "playing two sports, having to manage practises for both sports, not having a break or an off-season was really challenging."
He felt at a certain point that football was always the way to go, and he didn't want to jeopardize that any longer, especially when he incurred a knee injury.
"I made the choice not to risk my football opportunities by potentially getting injured playing basketball and came to the decision to stop playing at that point."
In hindsight this was the right move. The wide receiver helped the Gee-Gees football team win the Dunsmore Cup in 1997, earning himself the award for the MVP of that game. His decision to fully pursue football was further justified when he was signed by the Washington Redskins of the NFL upon graduating from uOttawa.
He almost made it there in Washington, but even though he didn't, Tounkara credits that as a time he learned a lot, dubbing it "an unbelievable experience." He was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL in the same year, and his short time in the NFL made that particular journey easier.
"Going to mini camps in Washington, living in the US, surrounded by players I admired such as Trent Green and Michael Westbrook, it was a very big change," he noted, "It was a huge step up. I almost made it but was glad to be back in Canada with the Roughriders. Going to the CFL after being in the NFL for many months was very easy."
"With his size (6'3" 195 lbs,), speed, athleticism, blocking ability and big play ability he was one of a kind," says Larry Ring. "Anyone who watched Gee-Gee Football between 1994-97 always told me they noticed Ousmane right away. He looked like an Olympic 400 metre runner with effortless, long strides that made short passes turn into long TDs."
"He was as dominant a player in the 1990s as anyone in the country," adds Pat Sheahan, long-time head coach of Queen's and Concordia.
As a second-round pick, Tounkara went on to play 29 games in the CFL, all with the Roughriders. Eventually though, he moved on from football, but found it difficult.
"It was hard to find a job out of the CFL with no work experience," he remembered. However, his time as a Gee-Gee helped in preparing for these difficult moments in life. He went on to find work, and today he is a National Project Coordinator for the Federal Government here in Ottawa. The work-ethic and determination that he learned while wearing the Garnet and Grey helped him get to where he is today.
"I am very happy with where I am now in my life and know that the perseverance and hard work I put in on the football field contributed to my success."
As he looked back at his days with Gee-Gees football, one very unique opportunity strikes out to Tounkara. He was lucky enough to have played with his younger brother, Ibrahim Tounkara.
"Playing at Ottawa with my brother, both basketball and football was awesome," he said. His younger brother had other opportunities elsewhere but was convinced by Ousmane to come to Ottawa and become a Gee-Gee.
"I have always done everything with my brother since we were really young, playing basketball and many other sports – we have always pushed each other and tried to play together as much as we could."
Having his younger brother on the team in 1997 helped Tounkara hit his next gear, saying "it was a blessing," and was "probably one of the reasons I pushed myself that year, to set an example to my younger brother."
So whether it was playing two sports he loved, more time with his brother, or the opportunity to go pro, Tounkara appreciates those Gee-Gees years. For him, "this recognition goes a long way."
"This is a huge honour, I have seen many great players be inducted to this hall of fame and being part of such a group is definitely something I will cherish for ever."
Ousmane Tounkara was wide receiver for uOttawa from 1994-97. He was named the OQIFC Player of the Year in his final season in Garnet and Grey, scoring seven touchdowns and leading the league in receiving yards (616). Over his four-year career, he scored 21 touchdowns and was a two-time First Team All-Canadian. Tounkara helped the 1997 Gee-Gees capture the Dunsmore Cup, scoring two touchdowns in the game including an 88-yard return score. Ousmane's pro football career included an NFL summer stint with Washington and he is one of many Gee-Gees Football Alumni to take their game to the next level in the CFL, playing three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The 2019 Touchdown Dinner will be held on Saturday April 27 at the Canadian War Museum. Tickets and full event information are available online here.