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November 2, 2018

A MEANINGFUL GAME

Calgary Stampeders' Bakari Grant, left, celebrates his touchdown as B.C. Lions' Adam Bighill walks past during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday August 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

And no, despite the standard cliché invariably attached to any return endeavour, this is not nearly as straightforward as ‘just like riding a bike.’

Not, that is, unless your bike-riding jaunts are confined to the New Jersey Turnpike on rush-hour Friday afternoons during a state-wide power outage and a total solar eclipse.

This is, after all, a fast, punishing, instinctive, caught-in-the-glare-of-the-spotlight line of work.

“The thing about Bakari is, if you’ve ever watched him play football,” Stampeders’ receiving coach Pete Constanza says remindfully, “you know this is a guy who loves the physical contact.

“Contact is a big part of what you’ve got to get used to again when you’ve been away.

“Well, he’s not going to shy away from contact.

“He’s going to initiate it.

“He thrives on it.

“This is a smart player – a guy who caught 84 passes last year, don’t forget – who understands the big picture of what an offence is trying to do on any given play.”

Yes, it’s been awhile since Bakari Grant ran the game-speed gauntlet.

A whole calendar year, save 16 days.

“I told the guys today: ‘I’m tired of just running around out there. I’m ready to hit someone again’,” says Grant of his 2018 debut, Saturday at B.C. Place.

“I’m ready for a game.

“A meaningful game.

“This is one of those things where you never know how much you miss something until you don’t have it. So when the chance comes along to get something like that back … there’s a level of excitement you can’t really explain.”

Signed on Oct. 16, Grant became part of the dizzying receiving carousel for the Stamps this season.

So for the first time since last season’s East Division final at BMO Field, a 25-21 victory for the homestanding Argos over Grant and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 31-year-old wideout will receive his first run-out in an old set of duds when the Stamps invade B.C. Place with visions of first place in the West and the bye week still firmly in their sights.

Cut by the Riders late in training camp along with other stalwarts Robb Bagg and Chad Owens, Grant was back in Oakland, Calif., biding his time when the team he opened his CFL account with in 2016 rang him up in early October to make inquiries.

“Fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t sit much when I was at home, what with business and working out and things like that,” he says.

“When I didn’t get a call at first, I busied my mind. That’s all you can do. But I did feel I still had something left in the tank. Some unfinished business to attend to.

“After a while I did receive a few calls.

“Unfortunately, they didn’t pan out. But then I got a call to come here and work out and I told them they were going to get what I still think I am, as a receiver, as someone who can help the young guys in the locker-room.

“I think you can get bogged down. When you’re winning, having great success – what this franchise is used to – you’re the best thing ever. Then you lose a couple and suddenly you’re the worst in the league.

“Doesn’t work that way.

“You can’t get caught up in that. That’s what I’ve been kinda positive about in the locker-room, being able to observe and letting guys know: ‘Look, the team that we had, it’s still here. We still have it.’ Let’s use it to the best advantage.’”

Costanza credited Grant’s ability to get down to business right away.

“Barkari’s been great since he got here. He’s had to re-learn some things in terms of terminology and so on but the big thing was getting him up here and getting his legs back under him because he hasn’t really run around since training camp.

“He’s looked really good on the practice field. Fresh legs, running good routes, catching the ball well.

“It’s been about getting his timing back, getting in sync with Bo.

“So it’s good to get him out there and get him some game action.”

Amen, says Grant. Time to hop back on that cliché bike everyone’s always on about, latch onto a few passes, initiate some contact, participate in, and win, a meaningful football game again.

“I really like playing in B.C.,” says Grant, expectantly. “A lot of my family’s west coast, so they usually come up. It’s indoors. I’m a California kid. It’s later in the season. So that’s always nice.

“Any time your first game of a season is a meaningful game, as this one is, that does add excitement. It’s been a good motivation, sitting back and watching the team the last couple weeks, figuring out how I can help.

“It’s great that it’s not just a throw-away game.

“In my mind – and talking to other guys on the team they feel the same way – this is a playoff game.

“We’re sure treating it that way.”