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July 30, 2019

JUST ANOTHER GAME FOR J.C. SHERRITT

CALGARY, AB - JUNE 29, 2019: The Calgary Stampeders won 36-32 against the BC Lions at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night. (Angela Burger/Calgary Stampeders)

John Cody Sherritt is insistent that the upcoming week – in his mind, anyway – represents nothing out of the ordinary.

Not about shifting colour schemes (green-and-gold to red-and-white) or duelling helmet-logo decals (double Es to frisky horse).

Nothing whatever to do with one-upmanship, dinner-on-him to celebrate a W prominently displayed on the locker-room bulletin board, that first opportunity to put one over on your old pals or even the bittersweet hue of glory days gone by.

“I’ve never changed, as a player or now as a coach: You focus on the week ahead,’’ says the Calgary Stampeders’ first-year linebackers’ coach, without so much as blinking at the thought of facing the Edmonton Eskimos for the first time in decade of footballing experiences in Canada. “You prepare for the opponent at hand.

“That’s all it is to me.

“I promise you that is all I am focusing on.

“What matters is preparing our guys to play against a very talented offence and making strides in continuing to improve.

“My linebackers are counting on me to put them into positions to make plays.

“They’re counting on me to do my job.”

Over nine northern Alberta summers that drifted into fall and then into winter, J.C. Sherritt did his job with a fierce integrity.

And in that doing he came to embody the Edmonton resistance stronghold the way another now-departed star, QB Mike Reilly, did the Eskimo attack.

Most Outstanding Defensive Player winner as well as a CFL All Star in 2012. Grey Cup champion three years later. The man at the whirring hub of the defence. Friend. Teammate. Leader. Sounding board. Example to aspire to.

As the years accumulated, he would by ability, intensity and osmosis join names such as Willie Pless, Dan Kepley, Danny Bass, James ‘Quick’ Parker and Dave ‘Dr. Death’ Fennell on any short list of notable defensive franchise warriors. When Sherritt retired from active duty, at the rather tender age of 31, this past Jan. 16, Edmonton GM Brock Sunderland said in tribute: “J.C. will go down as one of the best Eskimos of all time.”

That description still stands, of course. And will continue to, always.

Which is why his signing on here – for so long the lair of Enemy No. 1 – to launch a coaching career only two weeks after retiring struck such a chord, at least initially.

The Stamps and Eskies, of course, get along about as well as Batman and the Joker, Microsoft and Apple or reason and emotion.

“Anybody who’s a part of the business was very happy for me when I got this job,’’ parries Sherritt. “I was presented with an unbelievable opportunity. I’m very fortunate.

“I’m proud of everywhere I’ve played and every community I’ve been a part of it. I’m proud to be from Pullman, Washington. I’m proud to have gone to Eastern Washington. I’m proud to have played for the Edmonton Eskimos.

“And I’m very proud to be a coach of the Calgary Stampeders.”

Having retired relatively recently, of course, the far sideline will be awash in familiar faces when the two 4-2 arch-enemies collide Saturday at McMahon Stadium.

“We don’t talk much,’’ says Sherritt of his old gang. “And when we do, we never talk football. Obviously there are guys I played alongside for years – Ryan King, Calvin McCarty, for instance.

“Those guys, a lot of guys up there, I consider good friends. And they’ll be friends for life.

“In this business, though, you’re pretty focused on your job and the grind.

“It’s competition time.”

Approaching Week 7 of his first year in the coaching gig, following an off-season of turnover at the linebacking positions, Sherritt has been encouraged by both the collective and individual progress of those in his charge.

“Because of these guys, I’m excited to come to work every day,’’ he says. “They’re good, character people who strive to be great. They’re professionals who approach their job with passion and they’re getting better.

“To watch that growing improvement and be a part of it is what you got into coaching for.”

His presence on the west sidelines, he fully understands, can’t help but be front and centre among trending topics in the run-up to kick-off Saturday.

Hey, if any man alive can sense a full blitz (media or otherwise) in the offing, this would be the guy, after all.

Asked if the venue for Saturday’s skirmish, his new digs at McMahon as opposed to long-time home Commonwealth Stadium, might make this initial experience somewhat easier for him, Sherritt only smiles.

“We could play it out on the street outside back there, wouldn’t change my mindset or how I prepare,’’ he repeats. “This is an unbelievably huge game for us.

“We see how tight the race is and that only heightens the importance.”

Yes, certainly but, c’mon … given the opponent, the history, all those familiar faces, the shifting colour schemes and warring helmet-logo decals, wouldn’t bagging two point from this one be just a little, teensy-teensy bit sweeter?

“Every win,’’ he replies, still refusing to so much as blink, “is sweet.”