June 10, 2017

Rob’s raring to go

Fullback Rob Cote scores a touchdown against Toronto on Oct. 10, 2016 (Photo by Johany Jutras)

After 11 training camps, the routine can become a little, well . . . routine.

But for Rob Cote, there is always a moment of reaffirmation that illuminates why he’s back putting his body on the line.

“My wife (Natalie) always gives me a hard time about this,’’ the linchpin fullback is confessing on a cold, wet Saturday morning. “Going into camp is something that doesn’t necessarily excite me anymore.

“Some guys are eager to get back to camp. I mean, they cannot wait.

“Me? Not so much.

“But then driving home from the first exhibition game you play in” – a crisp snap of the fingers – “it kinda clicks, you know?

“There it is. There it is. You think: ‘Yeah! That’s what I’ve been waiting for. The opportunity to go and compete.’

“You’re gonna win some, you’re gonna lose some. But you’re out there again, doing what you love.

“For me, that first exhibition game, that’s when the season begins.”

Cote draws back in Sunday up at Commonwealth Stadium as Calgary Stampeders’ boss Dave Dickinson dusts of his veterans for the team’s final dress rehearsal.

The arrival in early March of a second son, Wynn, to join Miller, nearing three years old, consumed the Cote family’s off-season and helped drive away lingering thoughts of the agonizing Grey Cup loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks.

Cote with his son Miller in the Stamps locker room (Photo by David Moll)

“I was always very jealous of fathers who brought their sons into the locker room. Now, with (Miller) getting a little older, I can do that, too,’’ says Cote, who re-signed wit the Stamps mid-January.

“I mean, I still love to play.

“I think, at 31, I’m better than I was at 20. That’s the goal, right? Always trying to get better.”

A major part of that self-improvement, he’s quick to add, is a broadening of focus.

“Before, I poured everything I had into the game. Now I’m seeing you can do both.

“Be a husband, a father, a parent, and be a football player. And that diversity makes you . . . better. More balanced. Football player and person. I never used to be able to walk away from the game. Now, when I’m here, I’m here. I’m focused.

“But when I leave, I am gone.

“On a game day, I might be changing a diaper and I’m like ‘But I have to get to the stadium now.’ Rather than every moment thinking ‘I have to put these socks on this way’ or ‘I need to eat this meal at this minute.’

“The changes in your life open you up.

“Now, I think: ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m doing. I am going to be physically and mentally ready.’

“But sitting around thinking about it for 24 hours a day isn’t really going to help anything.”

The aim, as ever, is the big enchilada, Nov. 26 at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa. Hereabouts, in Stampeder-land, nothing less than a Grey Cup ring will suffice. That’s an annual thing.

Rob Cote and Jerome Messam during the 2016 Labour Day Classic (Photo by David Moll)

A spectacular 15-2-1 regular season, one that flirted with history, wasn’t enough a year ago. But simply gazing unblinkingly ahead to the end of November isn’t going to get them back to the Big Show.

“What you have to do,’’ explains Cote, “is really respect the process. I’ve been though years where you win all these regular-season games, lose at the end and it means nothing. At least, that’s how it feels.

“But then, you have to understand each of those games is part of it. You don’t just win by wishing it so. Learning how to compete, to win, every week, is what leads you to the ultimate goal.

“Maybe, looking back, we didn’t get better every week last year. We were very good but we maybe got a tiny bit comfortable. So it’s not just about one game,

“It’s about the process.”

Sunday at Commonwealth, Rob Cote draws back in. His football year, as always, starts on the drive home after that first exhibition start, that first taste of competition.

“Every off-season,’’ he reflects, “is a combination of long and short. Seems as if you’ve got a long time and then, especially with the new addition to the family, time disappears on you” – another crisp finger-snap  – “real quick.

“Then as soon as you’re back in training camp, it feels as if you never left.

“And although I didn’t play in the first pre-season game, this is normally the time we’d play our first one, right? It’s been a strange schedule but in this league, you have to get ready to strange schedules. You have to be flexible.

“So, getting to play (Sunday), it feels like it’s . . . time.

“Time to lace ’em back up. Time to throw on the pads. Time to go hit somebody for real.”