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May 24, 2019

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES

Back in the day at Turner Fenton Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., …

“What I remember most,’’ teases Calgary Stampeders’ punter Rob Maver, “is that in those days Courtney was an option quarterback as well as a safety. I also remember that we had these cheesy football jackets.

“Really cheesy.

“Hey, they’re high-school football jackets. So, when you’re that age, they’re sweet, right?

“But looking back they’re also a solid dose of cheese.

“Being a QB at this level means you can actually sit in the pocket and throw the football. I mean, Courtney could chuck it … a little. So let’s say he’s on his more natural side of the football now.”

Often when shifting franchises, allegiances, postal and area codes, there invariably follows a feeling-out, getting-to-know-you translation phase.

Courtney Stephen, though, had no trouble feeling immediately comfortable down at McMahon Stadium.

Why, it’s almost like old home week.

Punter Maver – like Stephen, Brampton-born – was, as mentioned, an on-field compatriot during their high-school days.

Wideout Juwan Brescacin, hailing from Mississauga, played alongside him a spell at Northern Illinois University, while interior D-lineman Junior Turner, from Toronto, was a teammate at the community level.

“There’s a lot of guys from the 905, the GTA, on this roster now,’’ says Maver.

“After all these years, it is pretty cool to be playing alongside him again.”

Not that they’re planning on forming a four-man book club or instituting, say, a rotating Fondue Fridays now that Stephen has joined the Stampeder fold from the Steel City, but he admits arriving to his very own little local white-hat Welcome Wagon has been, well, wonderful.

“When you go somewhere new, usually you don’t know anybody,’’ says Stephen, a five-season Ti-Cat, on a scrappy, wet Day Two of main training camp. “Having people around that you already know sure makes the transition easier.

“In general, the guys here have been really welcoming. That comes with a great culture, a great team environment. Obviously when you re-locate somewhere, you’re trying to feel everything out and determine where you fit in.

“It’s pretty easy to do in Calgary because this is a first-class organization; the way do things is top-of-the-class. Good to be here, man. Just trying to enjoy it, bring my game to add to the great on-field product they’ve already established.

“Having my guys here just makes it that much easier.”

And those ol’ Turner Fenton jackets that Maver mentioned …?

“Hey, they weren’t THAT bad,’’ protests Stephen in mock rebuttal. “I feel like we remixed them. Maybe at first we didn’t have the hottest-looking jackets. But we got a couple sketchbooks out and ordered some that we could be proud to wear in public.

“I dunno. Maybe Maver graduated before we got that model.”

Looking back, almost the entirety of Stephen’s competitive football life is represented in his new team.

When Brescacin reached the campus of Northern Illinois at DeKalb, Illinois in the fall of 2012, for instance, you-know-who was there to act as greeter.

“My initial visit at NIU, Courtney was one of the first people I met because we were both from Canada,’’ recalls Brescacin. “We actually lived 15 minutes away from each other and became close friends as time moved along.

“I’ve been recruiting him for years to come to Calgary but he hasn’t wanted to.

“Finally got him. Good to have him.

“We toss a lot of business ideas around. He’s very intelligent. So I knew he’d be a great fit with the Stampeders. Great athlete. Smart player.

“I’m happy he’s here.”

Turner, the nine-year/two-Grey-Cup-ring vet along the defensive front, counts Stephen as something of a mentor.

“When I first started playing football, that’s when I first met Courtney. I didn’t know nuthin’ about the game. Not a thing.

“We played varsity football together and I was 17 when we started. He helped me along the way. We had a great chemistry: Me on the D-line and him at safety. Just a fun time growing up around him and being able to ask him questions about football because I had no idea what in was doing.”

With Adam Berger retiring and Tunde Adeleke signing in Hamilton, spots are open, both special teams and at safety, especially for a battle-tested, CFL-proven commodity.

The Stamps landed free-agent Stephen on Feb. 14.

“When it happened, he texted me right away, saying: ‘Guess what? I’m coming to Calgary’,’’ laughs Brescacin. “Next day I made sure had Stampeder gear and not that black-and-yellow stuff he’d been wearing.”

Leaving the Tiger Cats, his only professional home and close to home-home Brampton, triggered mixed emotions.

“We all know what we signed up for when we choose this career,’’ Stephen says of exiting. “If you lose sight of that fact, things can definitely be difficult for you. I was blessed to spend those years there, with great coaches, great players.

“But now I’m here. In a great environment, as I mentioned, in an organization synonymous with success.

“It’s just another page in the book.”

A book that, Stephen readily admits, still needs a wow finish to make it a best seller.

“When you start out,’’ he says, “you make a little checklist. At least I did.

“A Grey Cup has always been at the top of that list. I’ve gotten close enough to smell it but I’ve never won one, never been able to check that box.

“Now, to be able to do that here, with my guys, would be sweet.

“It’s something I’ve gotta get done and I think this is great opportunity to do it.”