May 31, 2019

Young Pivot Impresses

CALGARY, AB - AUGUST 25, 2018: The Calgary Stampeders won 39-26 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by David Moll/Calgary Stampeders)

If patience is, as widely advertised, a sign of virtue, then Montell Cozart should stump for pope.

“Man, tonight,” he mused, post-game, “I got hit for the first time in a year.

“A year …

“And it felt great.

“It was fun.

“That’s football.”

As the third spoke on the Stampeders’ quarterbacking wheel, after arriving Aug. 11 of last season, Cozart didn’t take one snap behind centre during the tempest of game conditions.

Imagine going through countless rehearsals, learning your lines, and never – not once – actually trodding the boards, being out on the stage, under the arc lights, in front of an audience, after the curtain had risen.

“The first drive, I’ll admit, I was trying to get the jitters out,” confessed Cozart. “It’s been a long time. It was so fun being out there with the guys, everybody flying around. Getting in the swing of things.

“In camp and practice, we’re just going against each other. Fun to go against someone new for a change.

“I had a great time.

“The thing is getting in that groove again, finding that rhythm. After my first series, I felt good. I felt comfortable.

“Second nature takes over and you do what you do.”

In a pre-season opener delayed a half-hour by the smoke engulfing the city, the Stampeders bulldozed a skeletal Saskatchewan Roughriders lineup 37-1 in a first instalment of the Battle of the Brothers, Dave Dickenson in the red corner vs. Craig in the green corner.

There was plenty that pleased the Stampeder boss in the first of two exhibition auditions.

Starting at QB, with Bo Levi Mitchell going three-for-five for 84 yards and a TD during his brief sting and back-up Nick Arbuckle eight-for-12 for 131 yards and a touchdown toss before Cozart trotted on to receive his long-awaited CFL under-fire baptism.

Many others, too, stood out. Linebacker Nate Holley was here, there and everywhere during his turn at linebacker, making three tackles and forcing a fumble. Calgary-born slotback Colton Hunchak had nice snare, threw a shimmy and a forearm on his one catch, good for 27 yards. NFL vet Griff Whalen latched onto a 27-yarder for six. Anthony Gore, among those battling for the open middle linebacking spot, hauled in a tipped pass and rumbled 34 yards for a major.

And so on, so forth.

“The score,” reckoned (Dave) Dickenson, “flattered us because they got stopped at the one and then we made that touchdown there at the end.

“Didn’t shock me that we were the better team because we had our full team here. I thought our vets played well. You could tell we had a full roster.

“But we had a lot of young guys take steps. As a head coach you really want to have your decisions tough. We want these guys to play well.

“I thought we had a lot of guys step up.

“Receivers looked good, our linebacking corps looked good, back end made some plays for us. Looks like we’ve got some young playmakers.

“Certainly a team win. It’s pre-season, you can’t read too much into that. But I’d rather be on that side of the score than the other end.”
Mitchell certainly started out where he left off in November, airing one to Reggie Begelton for 39 yards on the game’s first snap.

“Probably 40 percent of our team (Friday) didn’t play last year,” reminded the reigning CFL MOP. “That’s what was nice about tonight: A lot of people are talking about all the guys we’ve lost and replacing them.

“So I was proud to see everybody doing it.

“But obviously as a quarterback, man, I feel good seeing these young QBs going out there, commanding the huddle, getting the guys lined up correctly, seeing their hot routes, putting the ball there and making plays with their legs, too.

“And Montell, not seeing the field at all last year, to go out there and ball out …

“Fun to watch.”