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November 11, 2019

A STRONG FOUNDATION

Nate Holley tenaciously hunting down a ball carrier as if the guy had just lifted his wallet. Cory Greenwood, same.

Reggie Begelton’s laser-light breakout show. An often-changing offensive front that guarded Bo Levi Mitchell like he were the Hope Diamond.

Nick Arbuckle’s statement turn subbing for the reigning MOP early on in proceedings.

Mitchell’s return to top form on Labour Day from a torn pectoral muscle in his throwing arm. Kamar Jorden’s playoff comeback from the catastrophic knee injury suffered Labour Day 2018.

Being introduced to DaShaun Amos, Royce Metchie and Raheem Wilson as linchpins in the defensive backfield. Top draft pick Hergy Mayala’s growing comfort level with the pro game. The peerless professionalism of Brandon Smith and Jamar Wall.

So much had been so positive in a season of re-tooling and refurbishment.

None of that seemed to matter much, though, in the wake of a 35-14 West semi-final ouster by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday.

The ache will be pretty raw for some time to come.

“It’s a pretty cut-and-dried business,’’ agreed Calgary Stampeders’ head coach Dave Dickenson on an uncharacteristically early clear-out Monday down at McMahon Stadium. “There’s not much else to say to give the guys any consolation.

“You can see in their faces, they want to keep playing, they want to keep going. It’s been a tough year on us. A good year but not a successful year.

“Feels very abrupt. But that’s the reality of sports.”

Another inevitable reality is change. Retirements. Salary-cap issues. The newly-installed, hard-to-fathom NFL signing window for CFLers already under contract.

All those factors are destined to play a part in how different the 2020 edition of the Stamps will look.

“We’ve got to make some tough decisions and there’ll be a lot of new faces,’’ said Dickenson.

“We’ve got a lot of hurt guys that we have to see if they’ll be able to come back or not and I’m sure Huff has his work cut out for him as far as the cap and that sort of stuff.”

Greenwood, at 36, may have had his fill of the wear and tear and . Tailback Don Jackson is set to test free agency.

Begelton’s gaze has turned, at least for the moment, southerly. Ditto Dexter McCoil, released Monday to pursue those options.

What infuses the Stampeders with optimism is the quality of their young crew.

“When we did our little rookie award, the fake one/ pie-‘em-in-the-face thing, normally, when we vote, nine or 10 guys walk out of the room,’’ recalled Mitchell. “And this year it was literally half the room.

“You could see the shock on the veterans’ faces. We looked at each other: Half our room just walked out.

“That was when we finally realized just how many young people we were playing with.

“And honestly, man, I thought they handled themselves really well. Very professional. A little drama now and then, that’s going to happen with a football team and sports in general.

“A lot of young guys helped us out this year to be successful, took a lot of big steps in the second half of the season.”

There remain regrets, obviously. A high-ankle sprain kept slotback Eric Rogers out of the semi. Sack impresario Cordarro Law was also absent due to an AC shoulder separation.

“We missed those guys,’’ confessed Dickenson. “There were our heart and soul.

“That leadership, work ethic, the smarts, drive … we missed those guys.”

One individual that did suit up Sunday, of course, but will be hugely missed moving forward is DB Brandon Smith. The swami-like figure nicknamed Mr. Miyagi – mentor to The Karate Kid from the 1984 feel-good flick – by his apple-cheeked secondary pals is calling it a career after 11 seasons and three Grey Cups.

“It’s a tough day,’’ conceded Smith. “It’s never a good time seeing all the guys cleaning out their lockers. Butt that’s the game we play.

“We knew it was possible. We just wasn’t ready for it.

“Still trying to soak in that the season’s over, my career’s over.

“You can’t do anything forever. All good things must come to an end. Just trying to enjoy all the guys still being in town, talking to them, last hugs and handshakes in.

“This is family here. (Calgary) is my second home. I’ll still be around, cheering the Stamps on, being a loyal fan. I will miss being on the locker room. It’s one thing being on the field, going to battle with guys. But it’s the camaraderie in the locker room, laughing, joking. Every time I come in the locker room, I’m talking smack with somebody. Every day.

“That’s fun to me. Always in good faith and love.”

From his accounting firm desk back home in California, Smith will be watching, convinced the way ahead is in good hands.

“We had a lot of young guys, new faces in the room,’’ he praised. “And those guys played hard. We fought, scratched and clawed. A lot of people doubted us this year but we had 12 wins.

“Guys went out there week after week and laid it on the line. Although they were young, they played like vets. So willing to learn and adapt to the game style and the playbooks.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to these guys.

“They have a strong foundation to build on.”