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June 10, 2019

JUST THE BEGINNING

Just because he hasn’t been spied executing cartwheels between the 30-yard-lines or floating around on a gossamer cloud flashing a high-beams grin worthy of a TV game-show host on laughing gas doesn’t mean Fraser Sopik isn’t, well, stoked.

“A lot of people might look at me and say I don’t seem to be having much fun, don’t look like I’m overly excited or happy,’’ concedes the Calgary Stampeders fourth-round pick, the 31st player selected, at the CFL Entry Draft in early May. “But I am.”

A small, knowing smile, Exhibit A for the defence.

“Honest.

“It’s football.

“I love football.

“Football’s fun.

“But I’m always thinking about the one play I screwed up. That’s the way I’ve always been. To say ‘Oh, he’s never satisfied’ would, I think, be cliché. But I don’t dwell on the good plays. I tend to think about the bad ones and what did I do wrong. That’s just the nature of who I am.

“That, to me, is how you get better.

“Everyone has their own expectations and you’ve got to be true to those, not to what everyone else says or where they want to put you.”

Saturday out west at B.C. Place, the undersized – read: 6-foot, 196-pound – linebacker out of the highly-successful University of Western Ontario program wrung the maximum out of a final audition, displaying a tenacity to the ball that became his hallmark with the Mustangs.

Most memorably, in the third quarter, the Toronto-born Sopik’s sack of Lions’ QB Austin Apodaca caused a fumble that netted the Stamps a two-point safety.

 

Following the short, post-game jaunt back to Calgary, he along with the rest of the hopefuls began the inevitable, insomnia-inducing wait, one sleep and half a day, before Saturday evening’s official cut-down announcement.

“You get here, there are 80 guys and everyone wants to hear their name called,’’ says Sopik. “It’s a highly-competitive environment and at the end of the day, everyone is a friggin’ good football player.

“So you can’t be mad, no matter what happens.

“But to hear that you’re staying … it’s one of those experiences I’ll never forget.

“It’s crazy. You get here (for camp) and it’s like starting over again, going back to university. Only amped up.

“You don’t know anybody. You miss family and friends. You miss your car. But at the same time, you’re performing. In a way, that helps. Being by yourself, you’re able to just concentrate on the job at hand.

“My thing was basically living here, getting the first shuttle (to McMahon Stadium) and things like that. Stay late, watching film, because that’s how I play good football – when I’m overly prepared, in a sense. When I’ve seen things 100 times, that’s the I feel most prepared. That was my mindset coming in – block everything out except football.

“Moving to a new city, new team, new guys, new level, certainly does take some getting used to, though.”

Given the quality of his camp, and the potential displayed in pre-season peeks, getting familiar with things is certainly in the cards.

“I’m getting so many congratulations, texts and messages about making the team,’’ muses Sopik, the Bruce Coulter Award winner as defensive player of the game in Western’s 2017 Vanier Cup beatdown of mighty Laval, “and I really feel like I haven’t done anything yet.

“It’s Week One, Game One. I could get cut the next day. That’s the nature of the sport as a business.

“So you’ve always got to be on your toes.

“For me, it is exciting and I’m super happy to be here but my focus is entirely on getting better and trying to do something to contribute the team, whatever that may be.”