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February 28, 2019

THE MISSING PIECE

Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive back Courtney Stephen (22) celebrates his interception late in the second-half of CFL Football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Hamilton, Ont. on Saturday, September 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

There’s a first time for everything.

Six years into his CFL career, Courtney Stephen finally experienced the open market.

And subsequently found the perfect home.

“It was my first time going through (free agency), so there was some new things to consider,” he explained. “You always have an idea of how things are going to play out but seldom do things actually play out the way you envision them in your mind.

“I knew in my heart that wherever I ended up playing in 2019, I wanted to be somewhere that was going to be a contender for the Grey Cup and a team that was going to allow me to use my strengths and my experience that I’ve gained over the last six seasons.

“I felt like when Calgary came knocking, it was meant to be. It was a perfect fit at the perfect time, so I guess that’s how it ended up this way.”

As a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2013-2018, Stephen experienced the pain of back-to-back Grey Cup losses in 2013 to Saskatchewan and 2014 to Calgary.

So when Stampeders President and General Manager John Hufnagel approached the defensive back, it was the chance to join one of the league’s top contenders that appealed most.

“They just told me that I’m going to have a chance to contribute on a team that’s going to be making a run for the Grey Cup,” said Stephen. “At this point in my career, that’s one of the most important things. Every year you can’t take for granted. Most guys, if they’re lucky enough to even make it into the CFL and stick around, you don’t get too many chances to play in the Grey Cup. I’ve played in two Grey Cups myself and I’ve lost both of them.

“For me, that’s one of those things that has been eluding me. To have an opportunity to go out and finish the job, that’s a big attraction for me.”

And having a chance to win the Grey Cup on home turf is an added bonus, with Calgary hosting in 2019.

Stephen understands well the benefits that come with it.

“That’s kind of cool, too,” he said. “I didn’t realize that at first. I would definitely like to play for the cup in the stadium where there cup is being played. When we played in Saskatchewan for the Cup in 2013, that was the case and it gave them a huge upper hand. Just the fan support and the week leading up with the energy in the whole city, I can only imagine what it’ll be like when Calgary is playing in Calgary for the Grey Cup.”

When Stephen, a Brampton, Ont., product, arrives in Calgary and enters the locker-room, he’ll be greeted by some old friends.

“When you go somewhere further away and you have some familiar faces, it makes the transition a lot easier,” he said. “I have a bunch of people on the team in Calgary that I know, actually. Ese (Mrabure) and Junior Turner on the defensive line. Ese is a Laurier guy, Junior and I played city football together with the Brampton Bulldogs when we were just in high school, and Rob Maver was my kicker in high school. Juwan Brescacin, we went to Northern Illinois together and we didn’t even meet until we were in the U.S. Football is a small world and having those ties always makes things a little bit easier to deal with.”

With Ciante Evans and Tunde Adeleke gone and Emanuel Davis unsigned, Stephen brings the flexibility to play wherever the team needs him.

The 6-foot-1, 199-lb. defender brings the competitiveness, ball-skills, and toughness to play all over the field and make an impact in many different ways.

“I pride myself on being a versatile football player,” Stephen said. “I try not to put myself in a box and say that I do one particular thing. I think my ability to flex and be a utility player for the team is my best asset.

“Whether I need to play corner, play safety, be a gunner, block on kick return or whatever the task is, I feel that I have a skillset that’s balanced enough for me to do the job and do it well. I’m excited to figure out how this puzzle piece fits with all of what is already established. I’m just here to make what’s already a great thing better.”

Having left the comforts of home and a team where he spent a half dozen years, Stephen is ready and excited for the next challenge ahead.

“You never know what’s around each corner, but I think given all the signs, that this is an awesome opportunity for all of us,” said Stephen. “I’m hoping to bring something to the guys in the room that maybe they haven’t seen before and we can create a synergy. I’m excited for the new opportunity. It’s the things that you don’t know for sure that bring you the most excitement.

“I love to compete. I can’t wait for them to put that ball out there and get it cracking. I want to put the pads on again, but it’s not June yet, so I guess we’ll have to wait a little bit longer.”