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September 8, 2019

“A NIGHT I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER”

CALGARY, AB - AUGUST 3, 2019: The Calgary Stampeders won 24-18 against the Edmonton Eskimos at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night. (Photo by David Moll/Calgary Stampeders)

Even a three-hour bus ride and what surely must’ve been a fitful night of excitement-interrupted sleep later, Colton Hunchak was continuing to pinch himself so hard that he threatened to cut off circulation.

“Still seems pretty surreal,’’ the locally-born pass catcher confessed. “Having the chance to be part of beating the Eskimos up there, being a Calgary Stampeders’ fan my whole life, and then sweeping them in the seasonal series – I’ve always had a bad taste in my my mouth when it comes to Edmonton – was, well, awesome.

“And then to have everybody, my family, there to support me, to share it with me …

“It’s a night I’ll always remember.”

An evening that Hunchak could only whimsically imagine possible in school-days daydreams during those years at Notre Dame High School, or the growing-up afternoons at home in Hidden Valley playing catch with pals on the lawn.

Five receptions for 53 yards versus those nefarious Edmonton Eskimos, including a climb-the-ladder dandy straddling the sideline like a man trying to stay balanced standing in a canoe on a windswept day.

With parents Todd and Marjorie, significant other Larissa and daughter Zyra Nova, along with a niece from Edmonton among the 40,000-plus in the pews at Commonwealth Stadium, Hunchak earned rave reviews in a 33-17 slap down of the Eskimos.

“My wife and I are sitting in the stands, watching,’’ said dad Todd, “and we’re thinking: ‘This can’t be happening. Our little boy. Where he’d always wanted to be. Always. Ever since he started playing flag football – he might’ve even five. And back then he was always like: ‘When am I going to play real football?’

“Well, he’s playing it now.”

Post-game, the Hunchak crew gathered for a family celebration.

“At first, we just stood back and let some other fans talk to Colton, they wanted to have their pictures taken with him,’’ said Todd. “To see your son doing that, having that kind of experience, is pretty cool, let me tell you.

“I think two things will stay with me from (Saturday). Before the game, Colton likes to go into the end zone, go down on one knee and be at peace or whatever, get his head focussed. That sticks out.

“Another one, after he’d made one of his catches he came back to the sidelines and instead of sitting on the bench, he sat on top of the bench.

“We were fairly close to him and seeing his name on the back of his Stampeder jersey. That moment …

“I came here when I was 11 years old, from Edmonton. Ever since, I’ve been a Stampeder fan. Remember the SOS for the team? My parents bought our first season tickets then.

“So to see Colton play the way he did …

“We’re all so proud.”

That degree of button-busting pride is not confined to the parental variety.

“Could you write a better script?’’ asked Stamps’ receivers coach Pete Costanza, as the Stamps began a leisurely post-conquest rundown out at McMahon Stadium at Sunday lunchtime. “His first true start, right? He’d played in other games but only in spots, in places.

“An eighth-round pick, local guy, lifelong Stampeder fan, going into Edmonton in the Labour Day rematch and plays a pretty big role in an important win, makes some nice catches, helps the run game.

“Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty special.”

Count Bo Levi Mitchell also among the impressed.

“Brings you back to when you first got here, making a play for your team,’’ reminisced the leagues’s reigning MOP. “I remember getting a third-and-one in a playoff game against B.C.

“I still remember just how happy I was. I’m sure some people were like: ‘Man, that kid must be stupid …’  But you love this game.

“He loves it. You can tell. Studies his ass off. He’s a football player, you saw it out there, some of the  blocks he made.

“One (play) that goes unsung is at the end of the game, it’s third-and-six, I throw him the ball, gets the first down and slides to make sure he stays in bounds.

“That’s savviness that carries you a long way. I think he’ll be a good football player for a long time.”

In the immediate aftermath of a seventh win of the season Saturday, head coach Dave Dickenson was full of praise for Hunchak.

“He’s probably one of those guys no one gives a lot of love. I knew he could play. Maybe he doesn’t run as fast or test as much as other guys.

“But I’ve got faith he knows how to play the game and he did a great job.”

Perhaps no man, in any line of business or any walk of life, can ask for more than the respect of his peers. For confirmation, consult slotback Reggie Begelton, teetering on the brink of CFL stardom.

“To see a young guy like him step in and play the way he did, where he did, well,  I’m sure it was a dream-come-true,’’ said the CFL’s leading yardage receiver. “You love for that to happen for somebody.

“Man, you could see it in his eyes. He was focused.

“Pretty much the same scenario for me last year, actually. Same game, I’d been on PR for a while and my first start happened to be the Labour Day rematch. I just wanted to prove a point. And I went out there and contributed.

“I’m sure he felt the same way.

“He wants to show everybody is what we all do – that he’s dependable.

“And he did that.

“What’s most important for any player trying to establish themselves is earn the faith, the trust, of his teammates.

“He’s earned our faith.”