July 1, 2019

The Onside Kick

The futbol aficionado in him understood the comparison immediately.

“Xavi and Iniesta,’’ said Rene Parades, clearly a Barça seguidor, referencing the two legendary Spanish midfield string-pullers.

“I loved watching them. They’re both super-good at that. Just popping the ball up and over top of the defence that way.

“That’s what I tried to do.”

Both World Cup winners would doubtless have applauded Paredes’ consummate skill Saturday evening at making his ball of choice hang in the air like a tardy soap bubble for Michael Klukas to dash onto and attack, then Eric Rogers to recover.

That successful onside kick provided with 1:20 left on the McMahon Stadium score clock allowed the Calgary Stampeders to finish off their stirring comeback.

So rarely does a thing planned so meticulously come off so flawlessly.

“They’re tough plays to hit,’’ confessed coach Mark Kilam, who celebrated the massive special-teams moment post-game with kids Jules and Hennessy on the Stampeder sideline. “So when you do, it makes all the work you put in to giving you the best chance possible worthwhile.”

For a moment as the fateful kick Paredes sand-wedge began its descent, Klukas seemed so absurdly alone that he might basket-catch the darn thing and high-tail it off into the B.C. Lions’ end zone.

“Oh,’’ laughed Kilam, “wouldn’t that have been sweet?

“It was close.”

The kick allowed the Calgary Stampeders offence another crack at putting up the winning points and it didn’t disappoint, QB Nick Arbuckle connecting with Rogers at 19:18 of Qtr 4 to ensure a remarkable 36-32 victory.

“My job is to put it up there 10, 12 yards with some hang time,’’ explained Paredes.

“I usually get the hang time anyways but I had to play the wind yesterday because it was very, very strong. The kick actually went a little further than I wanted but at the end of the day it worked out and that’s all that matters.”

Even as Arbuckle and Co. were driving to whittle Calgary’s deficit to 32-29 half-a-minute earlier, Kilam and his gang were plotting tactics.

“We were talking about it then, getting the guys ready,’’ said the 12-season Stampeder tactician. “We’d sustained a bunch of injuries so I was making sure we had the right people and enough people.

“We work on our onside kicks and hand stuff every week because our mindset is that any week they can win or lose a game. All the guys did a really nice job of executing the play with urgency, timing and fearlessness. That’s what you have to retain an onside kick.

“Klukas did a great job playing the high point, we were all after the ball and Eric came up with it.”

The home-brew Klukas, a raw rookie, couldn’t by any means be considered leading man in football yet. No Paul Newman. But after that bit of juggling to keep ball alive at the crucial moment, he might just have earned the nickname Cool Hands Kluke, to go along with the White Lightning he’s already been tagged with by his mates.

“I was so happy for Kluke,’’ said Kilam, echoing a familiar theme within the Stamps’ locker room. “I mean, how can you not love the guy?

“All he does is try his hardest, at everything.”

Klukas was still beaming 10 hours later following the team’s Sunday walk-through.

“Coach Kilam drew it up in practice and he told me: ‘I’m going to give you a chance to make a play,’’ he recalled. “‘Just run as fast as you can and be courageous.’

“Any time the coach tells me to run as fast I possible, I’m good with that.

“An amazing kick by Rene, so I just tried to take coaching and use it. I thought we had a chance because I never want to go into a play thinking otherwise but the success rate of onside kicks is pretty low.

“I thought: ‘What a special moment if we could do it.’

“I figured it would be all or nothing. I told myself if I’m gonna get tagged at least it’ll be at full speed. When I got up and tipped the ball and it started bouncing around it was like: ‘Wow! It’s right there!’

“I tried to catch it but luckily my teammates were right there to back me up, rallied to the ball and E-Rog came in and jumped on it.

“There’s nothing like being part of a team and celebrating a win like that, a play like that. The guys here, they’ve taken so much time to work with me, help me and their always in my corner, from the time I got released (last season) until now.

“Just feeling their belief makes me just makes me more determined to go make those plays.”

Adding to it was a posse of family and friends gathered in the stands. A week ago, they were on hand for his CFL debut for his hometown team.

Saturday turned out even better.

“They were going,’’ recalled Klukas, “absolutely nuts. They waited for me until after our (post-game) meetings so I got a little celebration in with them.

“The support, from everyone, has been amazing.

“I’ve still got a few messages I need to respond to today.”