How I Got Here

Holding the line

Derek Wiggan, from the shoulders up, wears a black Stampeders shirt. He is looking down with a red-light fog appearing behind him.

Photography by Candice Ward

As an elite athlete who is just 30, Canadian Football League (CFL) defensive star Derek Wiggan (Artsci’14) feels pretty comfortable being seen as the “old guy” on teams.  

The Calgary Stampeders defensive end first found himself in that role in 2014 at the ripe old age of 22, when the team sent him back to the Queen’s Golden Gaels for another year of college ball after attending training camp. He returned to Kingston to find a young team looking to him for guidance.  

“I guess that was the first time I really saw myself as a leader,” says Mr. Wiggan, who has battled in the defensive-line trenches for seven seasons since joining the team for good in 2015.  

“Coming back to Queen’s for my fifth year, we had a lot of freshmen, and I was the older guy who just did a CFL camp. I’d been through it, I’d been through ups and downs, and I’d experienced it all from a university sense, and I figured I could just give myself to the guys on the team and the leadership part grew from there.” 

Having that 2014 experience at Queen’s served Mr. Wiggan well when the Stampeders began rebuilding after a 2018 Grey Cup triumph. The team saw several key players leave after that championship season and the Toronto native once again found himself as the old guy in a sea of fresh faces.  

“My leadership role grew with the Stampeders after the 2018 breakup, when I was one of a couple of holdovers,” he says. 

“My personality is that I think more about team success than my own, because I know that if the team succeeds, I succeed as well. I get joy from doing a good job and I think younger guys, whether professional or collegiate players, see my approach and think, ‘Hey, this guy’s willing to do his job and it’s not the most glamorous job’ and then maybe they think, ‘Why can’t I do that, too?’”  

Last October, Mr. Wiggan saw his leadership recognized through the 2022 Calgary Stampeders’ Presidents’ Ring Award, given for excellence on and off the field. Decided by a player vote, it recognizes “in-game contributions, leadership, inspiration, and motivational skills.”  

His ability to go above and beyond was also recognized in 2019 when he earned the Stampeders’ nomination for the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award. The award goes to a Canadian player who demonstrates strength, perseverance, courage, comradeship, and contribution to Canadian communities.  

In addition to leading on the field, Mr. Wiggan took on an extra role last year as a CFL Players’ Association representative. He hopes to help guide his fellow players, especially the younger ones, and ensure they understand the services and resources available, as well as offer advice if needed.  

“I’ve been with the Stampeders since 2015, so I’ve seen lots of things on and off the field and I just see myself like a resource for guys to use if they need help – I’m kind of like a tour guide,” he says.  

“I think I’ve built a cache of knowledge as a guy who’s been there and done that. It was the same thing when I was at Queen’s.”  

Part of his new association duties saw him participate in the 2022 Grey Cup in November, but not as a player. While he found it “weird” going to the game without his equipment, the experience showed him that sometimes the “old guy” can also see things like a wide-eyed youngster. 

“When I was playing in the game, I didn’t have to think about anything else – we had our mandatory media day, but otherwise we were just focused on the game,” he says.  

“Last year, I was doing players’ association events, some community service, some media stuff, some fan engagement, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, there’s so much going on around the game and it’s pretty cool.’” 

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