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May 8, 2019

SOMETHING TO PROVE

WR Colton Hunchak (82) York during the CFL combine at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto, ON, Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras/CFL)

The tension, Colton Hunchak confesses, had become a tad oppressive.

“We had a draft party, at my agent’s house (in Toronto),’’ the freshly-minted Calgary Stampeders receiving prospect is explaining. “With my (university) teammates Nikola Kalinic, who went to Hamilton, and Jacob Janke, who went to Sask.

“I have never felt like that, been through something like that. The waiting … Man, is it stressful. The rounds kept disappearing.

“I actually had to step outside because I was tired of looking at the screen.

“So there I was out on the street. I needed a little moment to myself. At that point there were two picks left, Ottawa and Calgary, and then everybody ran out out the house yelling: ‘You got drafted! You got drafted!’

“I said: ‘Who was it?’

“They said: ‘Calgary.’

“Yeah. That was it. That’s what I wanted to hear. That was it for me.”

With the final selection, 73rd overall, of the 2019 CFL Draft, the Stamps selected home-brew quarterback-turned-receiver Hunchak of the York University Lions, Calgary-born-and-reared and late of the Notre Dame high-school program.

So he inherits the yearly title of Mr. Irrelevant, bestowed annually upon the last player taken in the NFL draft, and coined by an ex-Stampeder pass-catcher, to boot – of 1952 McMahon Stadium
vintage – by the name of Paul Saltala.

No matter.

Irrelevance, Hunchak understands, is only a state of mind.

When rookie camp opens at McMahon Stadium on Thursday, no individual – regardless of age, nationality or grandeur of college affiliation – will be any more ready to rock than Colton Hunchak.

“It’s added so much motivation for me, being the underdog,’’ he says.

“Once I get to camp, I’m not walking around with a number” – 73 – “over my head. I get the same opportunity as everyone else.

“It makes for such a better story, right? Being the last pick overall and going to Calgary?

“Man, it’s pretty awesome.”

Adding to the story is that a few years back Hunchak spent three or four years as part of Stamp coach Dave Dickenson’s Passing Academy, working with the bookish boss himself as well as long-time Stamps’ receiving coach Pete Costanza.

So the congratulatory phone conversation from the carried some extra resonance.

“Of all the years I’ve done this,’’ laughs Costanza, “this was probably the most excited I’ve heard a player when I called to say: ‘Congratulations. Welcome to the Stampeder family.’

“I mean, Colton was pumped. He wouldn’t stop talking. ‘I won’t let you down! I won’t let coach Dickie down! I’m not going to let the city down!’

“Extremely fired up.

“I couldn’t be happier for a guy like that. I know that some people might say he doesn’t have the sexy testing numbers. But when you watch the kid play the game of football, he’s got a great understanding of how to run routes, man/zone, all the details.

“Having worked with him before at DPA and getting to work again with him now, at his level, things have come full circle.”

During his senior year at York, Hunchak set a school record for receptions, 58, and became the all-time leader in career catches, 162.

Used to be a pretty fair chucker, back in the day, too.

“A lefty,” recalls Dickenson. “Good feet. Played quarterback all the way through my camps, along with his brother Brett. If I’m not mistaken, at every level he’s been one of the best guys, if not the best guy. When he was with us, Colton would play receiver with the older group and quarterback with the younger group. We saw then that he had good hands.

“We weren’t sure we were going to get him this year. There was a very deep receiver class. Having that personal experience, knowing him as a person, the intangibles, maybe our grade was a little higher than other teams.

“We’ve always liked to get the kids have a little bit more knowledge of, that we think are winners, maybe have a little bit more to prove. Maybe their measurable don’t jump off the charts but to know a little bit about that person, have that connection to Calgary, we feel we want to.

“Colton fits right in there.”

Those camps held inside the Viper Dome beside Foothills Stadium certainly helped whet the gridiron appetite of an impressionable teenager.

“Being a QB at that stage of my career, I really got to work with coach Dickenson,’’ recalls Hunchak. “And it was … awesome. I remember he really got his points across. So many complex pieces go into the game of football and his ability to kinda dumb it down for teenagers, high-school kids, and then develop the skill levels is really what stood out for me.

“Along with the chalk-talks. They lasted about a half-hour, 45 minutes before we went on the field. To have a past player given you that kind of information, that kind of knowledge,

Dickenson knows that a mature young man will be ready for the chance of a lifetime.

“I know he had to grow up earlier than most. He has a two- or three-year-old. I talked to him at the combine and he told me it’s helped him focus, grow up and make good decisions, find what’s important in your life.”

Hunchak and girlfriend Larissa Crawford welcomed daughter Zyra Nova a shade over two years ago.

“Oh my goodness, fatherhood changes everything,’’ he muses. “For the better. She’s in the Terrible Twos. Starting to talk back and everything. After she was born, I started looking at my grades” – in York’s business and society program – “and from the moment she arrived, I was getting straight As, straight Bs. Really without thinking. You go right into that dad mode. All your decisions you make aren’t just for yourself anymore.

“I love putting a smile on her face. Any time I’m out there playing football with my helmet on, she loves it.”

So does pop.

He couldn’t wipe the grin off with a scouring pad these days.

“Hoping he comes in and competes hard,’’ says his old mentor, Dickenson. “It’s a hard road. He knows that. Colton’s the last pick in the draft. He knows he’s got to be a lot better than a lot of other people to make the team.

“Finding that extra motivation and competitive drive will be key to him doing that.”

Motivation and drive, you get a feeling talking to the man, won’t be at issue. This is a someone, after all, practically weaned on Stampeder red-and-white, watching receivers the quality of Rambo, Lewis, Copeland and the like.

“I used to sell 50/50s at games,” Hunchak recalls. “Yeah, I used to be one of those guys.

“So this really is a dream come true for me.

“I didn’t care if I went first. I didn’t care if I went last. If I went to Calgary, I was gonna be happy.

“So I am. Happy.

“Very happy.”