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June 12, 2019

WHITE LIGHTNING

It’ll likely never reach the Johnny Hockey trademark level. Still, the handle, White Lightning, does have a certain ring to it.

“That’s all coach Dickie,’’ laughs Michael Klukas. “He came up with that nickname. So I’ve got to thank him. I think.

“Any profits, I guess I’ve got to give him a cut, a percentage. He’ll want in on it.”

Understand, the locally born-and-trained pass-catcher isn’t aiming for a candy bar to named after him or an in-his-image No. 81 McFarlane action figure to be stocking toy-store shelves.

Playing a part is more than enough.

“It’s something I’ve played in my mind a million times,’’ says Klukas, of Saturday’s 2019 CFL seasonal curtain-raiser at McMahon Stadium. “Coming out on the field as a Calgary Stampeder in a regular-season game.

“Wow …

“But I’m really not satisfied in just being here. I want to get better, to keep improving.”

To call Kuklas’ first season pro ‘unconventional’ would be a tad understated. A free agent signing in December of 2017 following five seasons at the U of C modelling Dinos red, he spent three months on the Stamps’ practice roster a year ago before being released on Sept. 7.

“Last year became a numbers-situation with his PR spot,’’ reminds Stamps’ receiving coach Pete Costanza. “We needed another body on defence and Mike became the expendable guy.

“It wasn’t as if he did anything wrong.

“The situation last year was hard all the way around. Hard on him. Hard on the guys in the locker room – his teammates love him. Hard on the coaches, because we saw how much he wanted it.

“Coming back this year you can see more confidence, which allows him to play fast. His comfort level is greater. He’s making plays and you can spot that look: ‘Well, s—-, I belong out here.’

“He’s a kid, even in a walk-through, who’s going 100 MPH. It’s love for the game. The kid just loves the game. So it’s good to see him back and having success; that his labour of last year, the perseverance he showed and the desire to improve, is providing rewards right now.”

That affinity Costanza spoke of within the tight-knit receiving corps for the graduate of St. Mary’s High School isn’t hard to pick up on.

“White Lightning?” The acrobatic Eric Rogers smiles. “He’s worked hard. A likeable guy, funny. Even after (being released) last year he’d show up early and run routes with the quarterbacks, like 5:30 in the morning, staying prepared, just in case.

“Then he ran routes here with Bo this whole off-season. He’s put in the time. A smaller guy, height-wide but he has some strength to him. He has the shoulder and he’s always talking about how he can out-bench me, which he probably can.

“He’s a thin guy so I tell him guys are going to be coming for the ball, trying to rip it out of his hands so to be smart, protect it, and take advantage of those deep balls he’s going to be thrown.

“I feel like he’s going to help blow the top of some coverages which will help me underneath. Always appreciated.”

The mentorship inside the room has been duly appreciated.

“These guys,’’ lauds Klukas, “have helped me so much. Seriously, I credit my being here today in large part to them.

“Coming in last year, I was such a raw receiver. And those guys kinda took me on, took me in, right away. They’ve gone out of their way to help me.

“Eric, he’s messaged me the whole off-season. In camp K.J. spent maybe 45 minutes after a couple of workouts, helping me with routes. I sit beside Bresc in the meetings and he’s right in my ear.

“I can’t say enough. Reggie, Richie all the veterans, they all have such a big faith in me. That gives me confidence to come out and play, having guys at that elite level, that I aspire to be, believing I can get there.”

A big night during last Saturday’s pre-season tilt at B.C. Place helped Klukas leapfrog overtop of Julan Lynch for the fourth Canadian receiver spot, joining Brescacin, this year’s first-round pick Hergy Mayala and Sindani.

So Saturday, after a year of waiting and a lifetime of wondering what exactly the emotions would be like, White Lightning finally gets the chance to strike.

“It’s going to be extremely gratifying,’’ says Klukas. “My dream has always been to play for the Calgary Stampeders.

“Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to feel, exactly. I only know it’s going to be special.

“I kinda have to pinch myself even talking about it. So I can’t get too wound up. I just want to go out and do my job.

“I’m really excited to be able to go on this ride.”