Photo by David Dermer

By Steven Chang

Two weeks after the Western Final defeat in 2022, Mathieu Betts returned to the weight room.

The defensive end from Montreal prefers an offseason where he can lay low. As a high school physical education teacher at his alma mater, Collège Notre-Dame, he teaches students the fundamentals of all physical activities.

However, little did the students know that their gym teacher is a top-tier athlete.

“I don’t advertise it that much when I’m at the school. I don’t wear anything affiliated with the Lions or the CFL. I just wear a plain shirt and teach physical education. We did volleyball, conditioning, I even taught them how to dive in the pool,” Betts said.

“That was kind of funny to me because I don’t have none of the backgrounds in swimming but they bought in and they were great at it. That was a fun time for me.”

The high-motor defensive lineman who graduated from Laval University in physical education has been taking contracts in teaching during the past two offseasons.

“I’ve been working full time. I just got done with work this week. I get to have a little rest before training camp. I tried to spend all my time working out in my first offseason but after I hit the weight room and ate, it was only noon or 1 p.m. I was getting bored with my days so I needed to stay busy,” Betts added.

Defensive end Mathieu Betts delved into his youth football experience in Quebec to his time with the Chicago Bears in 2019.

Betts, the two-time Vanier Cup champion with the Laval Rouge et Or, was highly recruited out of high school. With offers from NCAA and numerous schools across Canada, Betts chose to stay home to play for a defensive-minded coach Glen Constantin.

He was a multi-sport athlete growing up who excelled at all the sports he played. Betts joined minor football with the LaSalle Warriors and was naturally a good fit. He went on to represent U18 Team Quebec for two summers in the Canada Cup.

“My parents put me into hockey when I was very young and I loved hockey growing up. But as soon as I played football for the first time, I mean it was football above all the other sports. I’ve played tennis and hockey at a high level, football was always number one,” Betts recalled.

Having the experience to play for a provincial program that holds its youth athletes accountable was one of the reasons why Betts decided to further his education and football career in Quebec.

“I was on team Quebec for two years. Brad Collinson who’s now the head coach for the Concordia Stingers was the head coach for U-18 at the time. That was huge for me back in the day. I made the team as an underclassman and played against great competition like Peter Godber. We were treated like the pros. The training camp was serious, they took the best players from Quebec,” he added.

The quality of coaching Betts received had convinced him to stay home to play for the Laval Rouge et Or.

“When I got to high school where I taught this year at Notre Dame, I became one of the good players on the team. After that I went to Cégep du Vieux Montreal, that’s where I got recruited by Laval,” Betts recalled.

“Glen Constantin was the head coach and the D-Line coach. He said he wanted to have a shiny new toy for him to have on the roster. That was big for me. The other guy in charge of recruiting back then was Brad Collinson, I was fortunate to be able to be a part of that team.”

Betts recorded 12 sacks as a rookie at Laval. Not only was he recognized as U Sports Rookie of the Year in 2016, but Betts was also named the most outstanding defensive lineman of U Sports three years in a row (2016-18).

Following a successful university career at Laval, winning the Vanier Cup in 2016 and 2018, Betts signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2019. A few days later, the Edmonton Elks selected Betts third overall in the 2019 CFL draft.

“Going out there to Chicago, I wanted to take away as much as possible. The reality is that the two starting edge players at the time were Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. I quickly realized that they may have some of the athleticism I may never have,” Betts recalled.

Besides the elite playmakers on the Bears’ defence, Betts also maximized his potential during his short stint in Chicago. He was able to learn under long-time NFL coach Chuck Pagano and got to know current Calgary Stampeders defensive line, James Vaughters.

“It was the top of the pyramid for football. I was grateful to be a part of that and to have the chance to compete with the best. Now I’m excited to be with the Lions and be the best as possible for my team,” Betts added.

Defensive end Mathieu Betts delved into his youth football experience in Quebec to his time with the Chicago Bears in 2019.

Photo by Paul Yates

He played two seasons with the Elks before signing with the Lions in 2022. Betts now plays for a Hall of Fame defensive line coach who was one of the best in the CFL and has left a presence on every football fan in Montreal.

“When I was growing up, obviously the Alouettes had a really good team with Calvillo. They had Ben Cahoon on offence. They had John Bowman on the D-Line. It was cool to be around the city when the CFL team was at its prime. I never thought I would be able to play at this level. Now that I’m here, I’m grateful. I just try to enjoy it while I can,” Betts said.

This is also the first season Betts is returning to the same coaching staff in the CFL. It’s comforting to know when he returns to training camp, the D-Line will be able to continue to build on where they left off last season.

Meanwhile, Betts is spending the last stretch of this offseason training with his teammates Maxime Rouyer and David Menard in the Montreal area.

“I worked out with David Menard last week. Working on some pass-rush drills. There’s also Max, who’s the global linebacker who came on the team in the middle of the season last year. Menard works out on his own. He’s more of a lone wolf. He lets us hang out with him. I don’t think he likes us because he has to see us plenty during the season,” Betts chuckled.

“It’s going to be fun getting back in that routine in that football environment. That’s where I thrive and that’s what I like to do.”