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June 4, 2019

UPHOLDING THE STANDARD

That fashionably shaggy mane. The grin, if anyone had a tape measure handy, capable of stretching from one side of his hometown Thousand Oaks city limits to the other.

The effortless ease in which he packed up and immersed himself in this community. The way, despite the Dockers-and-shades California upbringing, he still managed to look good in a black Smithbilt. The sideline-to-sideline range of a predatory big cat on a hunt. Those accumulative 246 tackles over his closing two seasons here. The Most Outstanding Defensive Player award collected in 2018. A Grey Cup ring a year later.

“Alex wasn’t even here that long,’’ muses Cory Greenwood, the man aiming to assume Alex Singleton’s spot at the epicentre of the Calgary Stampeders defence this season. “What, two, three years?

“But the impact he left opened the door for him to go down to the National Football League and he deserves that chance.”

“I’m not looking at it like: ‘I’ve gotta replace Alex.’ Ever since I came to this league Calgary’s always been at the top. Their team. Their defence.

“I just want to help continue that trend.”

Ever since Singleton’s departure for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, just who will man the middle has been one of most chewed-over questions leading into training camp.

“To play the position,’’ says Stamps’ first-year linebacking tutor J.C. Sherritt, who knows a thing or two about its nuances, “you have to be a leader. Some guys do it vocally, some do it by example. Either way, or both ways, you gotta do it.

“You need to be smart and be able to communicate. All those things you’ve gotta have even before you step on the field. Those are the intangibles we expect, and we have in our group here.

“I worshipped Derek Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs when I grew up. Granted, I was a foot shorter, 40 pounds lighter and played a different position but I just gravitated to him. My dad played linebacker in college, too, so it was a spot I always watched.

“But Derek Thomas was the one. Always. I loved the way he played. To this day my favourite player.”

Greenwood and the freshly-retired Sherritt were, in fact, once teammates, with the Eskimos back in 2017, but never played a snap together. On the first day of training camp, Greenwood suffered a torn ACL, cutting short his year. Then a few weeks later, during the opening game of the season, Sherritt ruptured an Achilles tendon and was lost for the duration.

“J.C. was a coach on the field and in the room even then, taking over meetings, giving advice, helping guys out,’’ recalls Greenwood. “So he’s been groomed for this. You could tell from the very first meeting this year, we’re not just wasting time.

“He knows what he’s doing. He’s played way more snaps than I have in this league. He’s got over 500, 600 tackles. So any pointers he’s offering, I’m taking.

“When he retired, I reached out to him, like: ‘Great career, so disappointed we both got hurt that one year and couldn’t play together.’

“Three weeks later, Mons (defensive co-ordinator Brent Monson) tells me: ‘Hey, I’ve got a new linebacker coach. I think you’re gonna like him.’

“The J.C. called a couple weeks after that telling me he got the job. Pretty cool.”

Entering his 10th season pro and second out at McMahon Stadium, the 33-year-old Kingston, Ont. product brings four years NFL experience in K.C. and Detroit, three years in Toronto with the Argos, the unfortunately lost Eskimo chance and last season as a Stamp to draw on.

During those four-down years down south, Greenwood studiously took crib notes from the likes of Derrick Johnson and Mike Vrabel in Kansas City.

“What they do that makes them so good, allows the to hang around for 10 years and play at such a high level?” he says. “You watch them, see how they work and take care of themselves.

“It’s like going to school, in a way.

“You’re never too old, or too young, to learn.”

Greenwood hopes to put those lessons, that unique professional schooling, to good use here.

“Being in the middle of the defence,’’ emphasizes Sherritt, “you have to be accountable, you have to be vocal and you have to make plays.

“Corey is all those things. He’s playing great football right now. He’s a leader, consistent, showed very well in the pre-season game.

“Dwayne (Norman)’s come on. Jerod (Fernandez) is a young up-and-comer. And we have Riley (Jones) and Mezz (Eric Mezzalira), who’ve been been dinged up.

“So we have depth there. That competition is live and going, too.”

So, no, in case you’re wondering, Cory Greenwood doesn’t feel as if he’s the understudy in line to replace Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Broadway cast of Hamilton or the James Bond immediately subbing for Sean Connery.

He doesn’t see this opportunity as replacing Alex Singleton, or anyone. More along the lines of trying to join a storied club, one that counts Wayne Harris, Alondra Johnson, Juwan Simpson and, yes, Singleton among its exclusive, high-accomplishment membership.

“I’m just looking to maintain, to uphold, the Stampeder standard,’’ he repeats. “And that standard is winning.

“I like winning.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces this year – on defence and offence – but all of us in that room feel the same way.

“When you play for the Stampeders, there’s that certain level expected of you and you don’t want to let anyone down.”