September 17, 2019

Sopik Wanting More

Football acumen? Top-drawer. Predatory instincts for the hunt? Undeniable.

Career ambition and self-belief? Check and check.

Then there’s that jersey number to consider …

“You mean 47?’’ J.C. Sherritt replies, slightly bemused. “It’s a good number.

“I mean, a good number.

“I don’t know if he had a choice in that, but it doesn’t hurt.”

Over eight seasons, as three-down aficionados can recite like scripture, Sherritt donned 47 with distinction while operating at the command centre of the Edmonton Eskimos’ resistance.

Now, in his, rookie Fraser Sopik out of Western University the is modelling. The colour scheme’s nowhere near the game and the road to here and now much different, but the dreams, the ambitions, aren’t from when a kid from Truckee, Calif., via Eastern Washington arrived in the Alberta provincial capital back in late spring of 2011.

And no, Sopik hadn’t an inkling about the 47 tie.

“I just realized that …,’’ he confesses.

“That’s a lot to live up to.”

With the availability of starting middle linebacker/CFL leading tackler Cory Greenwood still in flux for the Calgary Stampeders’ Saturday’s date in the Big Smoke, Sopik’s hometown, and the ratio-juggling parameters to factor in, the 22-year-old could see additional time at the Will linebacker spot, even in the middle.

Or a combination of both. Depending.

Last Saturday, after Greenwood went out injured early on in the 19-18 taffy-pull against Hamilton at McMahon Stadium, Sopik helped in filling the linebacking breach as the Stampeders moved their record to 8-4 and to within a pair of points of the West Division-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“I’ve been playing more the last couple of weeks,’’ he says, as the team reconvened Tuesday following a couple of down days. “Not necessarily because of injuries but just because.

“I know, though, that it’s a week-to-week thing. Depends on the match-ups. Depends what the coaches are looking for. But I do trust when I need to go out there that I’ll prove I can do the job.

“There are elements in my game that I think I’ve taken a step back in. My teams have been up and down. I’m not satisfied with that. I make a big play here and there but I want to be more consistent in that part of the game.

“I’m definitely getting more comfortable defensively, though. I’m feeling comfortable with the playbook and that means I’m out there trusting myself and playing freer.”

Count Sherritt among those mightily impressed by the Stamps’ fourth-round selection in the most recent CFL draft.

“As far as smarts for the game, they were there from the first day,’’ says the league’s 2012 Most Outstanding Defensive Player honouree, a Grey Cup champion three years later. “He has an unbelievable football mind.

“You tend to get a gauge on football IQ pretty early. His was way high right away. And he was ready to take on the full load.

“If I’m not on my stuff at meetings, he can catch me. That’s where he’s at.

“So I have no problem giving him packages, giving him all sorts of responsibilities. He’s ready for that.

“More than anything he wants to be good at his job. He’s a worker. He’s prepared to get better and he isn’t afraid to be coached hard.

“Just a fun kid to be around.”

Having a former star defender imparting technical and competitive knowledge, particularly one so recently removed from playing, a star that he grew up watching on TSN broadcasts, has been a boon to the 22-year-old Sopik.

“With (Sherritt), there’s always that respect factor involved,’’ he emphasizes. “He’s pretty much done everything, pretty much won everything. So when he talks, you better listen. He watches as much film as anybody does and knows the playbook as well as anybody does.

“Which means that when he sees something, he’s right. Best to understand that.”

Best also to understand that Fraser Sopik has only begun to find his competitive feet in the pro game.

“I’m not close to being where I want to be, where I think I can be,’’ he emphasizes. “I want so much more from this year.

“There are always expectations put on rookies, guys who’ve just been drafted and all those things.

“Well, I’ve always had my own expectations.

“I always want more.

“When you start playing, you want more time on the field, right? Then when you’re playing a lot, you want to be an all-star. Then you want to be the defensive player of the year. Then you want to win a Grey Cup. And then you want to win another Grey Cup.

“That’s got to be your mindset.

“That’s the way it’s always been, and the way it’s always gonna be, for me.”