June 2, 2019


To trot out a rather careworn cliché and say Nate Holley was “around the ball” Friday night would be to do the stealth, intuition and tenacity involved an injustice.

He hunted it down as if he’d planted a tracking device underneath the pebbled pigskin. Sniffed it out like a Tuscan hound on a truffle hunt. Pursued it with the single-minded clarity of Sherlock Holmes matching wits with Professor Moriarty.

“Instinct and effort, those are the two characteristics you need, in my mind,’’ reckoned the first-try Calgary Stampeders’ linebacking hopeful, on a bright, blue Travel Alberta-beautiful morning, the smoky residue of Friday long since dissipated.

“Effort to get to the ball. Effort to make the plays you need to. Effort to be disciplined and sound in your fundamentals and technique. Effort in just being able to outrun everybody every play.

“And then instinct in the sense of: ‘Hey, where’s the ball going to be? Where’s it at now? Where’s it going?’

“That type of thing.

“So, to me, those are you need to be playmaker.”

Converted to the Will linebacker spot here from his collegiate days manning the safety position at Kent State, the 6-foot-2, 209-pounder 24-year-old has the requisite size and speed to flourish at the new position.

“Moving from safety definitely helps him,’’ acknowledged defensive co-ordinator Brent Monson graduated to after two-stints tutoring the team’s linebackers. “You need a lot of the same characteristics to play the (Will); to be able to cover, to run, to make contact.

“You can tell at practice, his habits, his effort, are very, very good. All the time. Like a lot of other guys on our defence. He had a good game. So did Fraser Sopik and Anthony Gore.

“He was a high-tackle player at Kent State playing safety, very productive. And that’s what we’re seeing here.”

During his initial audition at McMahon Stadium in Friday’s demolishing of the far-from-full-strength Saskatchewan Roughriders, Holley seemed to be caught in the TSN camera shot an inordinate amount of the time, wound up credited with three tackles and a forced fumble.

With only two pre-season games – maximum – in which to audition, making an impression on each practice day is paramount for anyone to separate himself from the herd.

“He’s had a very good camp,’’ echoed linebacking coach J.C. Sherritt, one of the three-down game’s finest linebackers of the past decade.

“He’s shown he can run to the ball day in and day out.

“It’s not just the games. Every single day, every meeting we’re in, it’s full evaluation. That’s just the nature of this business.

“That competition at those spots is full-go right now. These guys are taking advantage of every shot they get. There are going to be some tough decisions.

“It’s that close, so everything counts.”

After tryout spells with both the Minnesota Vikings and L.A. Rams (teaming up with twin brother Nick, as they had at Kent State ), this represents Holley’s first experience with the three-down game.

“Obviously the spatial aspect takes some getting used to,’’ he conceded. “You have some guys closer to the box meaning they’re in your face faster. So you have to deal with that and come up with a game plan sooner.

“When you add another guy on offence and another guy on defence it kinda takes care of the difference in the size of the field. The end zones are, to me, the big thing because you have to cover longer in the red zone.

“Outside of that, it’s just coming up and playing football.”

In the crowded area of opportunity that is the linebacking land of the this largely revamped Stampeder defence, there remains another week of practice and one more exhibition tilt, in B.C. versus the Lions, to make that statement impression. Or to reinforce an existing one.

For playmaker Nate Holley, hunting down a regular-season opening lineup spot is no different than hunting down the ball.

It requires instinct and effort.

After all, where there’s a Will, there’s a way.

“Every day when you are trying to make a team, throughout camp, no matter where you’re at, it’s a grind of: ‘I’ve got to show you what I’m made of’,’’ he reasons.

“You can’t leave any doubt in their minds or you’re going home.

“I was talking to one of the other linebackers a few minutes ago and we’re both like: ‘Man, I have no idea who’s going to stick here because everybody’s capable of making plays.’

“It’s a mental battle. Sometimes your body doesn’t feel like doing it. Sometimes you have aches and pains but you’ve still got to come out and fly around. Plain and simple.

“It’s kind of a war of attrition; a question of who can sustain that mental component longer.”