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November 28, 2019

“IT’S BEEN QUITE THE RIDE”

Looking back over a decade’s worth of work, from the arrival of a raw, slightly chubby prospect with a jackhammer for a right leg fresh off the University of Guelph campus to the finished-product professional of today, a mainstay of a franchise and a pillar of a community, there can be no assessing the totality of the journey and not arriving at one incontestable conclusion:

Rob Maver nailed it.

Coffin corner. Inside the 10.

No chance for a return.

“Being able to play a small part in the run we’ve had, in a very special time for the franchise, has been an amazing adventure,’’ says the Calgary Stampeders’ longtime punter, who’ll officially announce his retirement from football today.

“Nobody’s won more games than us during that span. We’ve gone to five Grey Cups, won two. Then the calibre of players I got to play with – when I was younger, Nik Lewis, Henry Burris, Jon Cornish, Joffrey Reynolds, then Bo blossoming into who he became, Eric Rogers …

“Guys who’ll go down as franchise greats.

“It’s been quite the ride.”

With the departure of 35-year-old DB Brandon Smith, the 33-year-old Maver briefly inherited and held the ‘old guy’ tag.

For little more than a month, as it turns out.

“Well, not the old guy, exactly. Let’s say guy who’d been around awhile,’’ he parries lightly. “An important distinction to make.

“I’ve seen a lot. Been through a few CBAs, the passing of the torch, you will, from Huff and Dave, the arrival and departure of a lot of great, great players.

“You’re a kid, you put your head down and work and few laters you pick up your head and suddenly everybody else is 23 or 24.”

On the walls of his office out at MacMahon Stadium, special teams Mark Kilam – the only coach Maver worked with during his tenure here, hangs framed photos of special moments involving Maver.

“To watch the development Rob went through over the course of his career … well, it makes a guy proud,’’ says Kilam. “He had to evolve his game numerous times to stay relevant in the CFL because of rule changes, team changes.

“That is quite remarkable.

“Came in as a field-goal kicker, Burke Dales was the punter. Got hurt” – torn quad muscle – “and everybody knows the story about how that opened the door for Rene (Paredes). When Maves got back, Rene was the kicker so he was forced to become the punter.

“They changed the rule about kicking out of the bounds between the 20s so he had to adjust his placement. Then when the block-of-5 couldn’t run anymore, couldn’t free-release off the line of scrimmage, he had to improve his hang time to give us more time to get downfield but he also had to improve his hand-to-foot operating time because they were pressuring more.

“All these things, over the years, where I’m on him, like: ‘Hey, we need you to do this’, then he’d work on it all off-season come back and do it.”

When asked the most challenging aspect of the punting gig, Maver replies:

“Understanding how to prepare yourself, the qualities you have to bring, to best control your mental game, because there are so many variables out of your control. Field conditions. Wind. Circumstances you’re asked to kick in.

“How are you going to handle the ebbs and flows of the game? How will react to a bad punt?

“Understanding how to play the game in your head before even bringing it to the field.”

Over the course, he’s been a two-time CFL All Star and on three occasion a West Division selection. At the 2019 Awards Night at the Scotibank Saddledome, Maver received the prestigious Tom Pate Memorial Award in recognition of his sportsmanship and contributions to his team, his community and the CFLPA.

In his punting, he allied power to precision. The man could seemingly drop a football into a paint bucket along the white sideline stripe from 40 yards away. Virtually on demand.

“Certainly that played into our philosophy,’’ says Kilam. “Could Rene have kicked more field goals from longer distances? Yeah, sure. But when you have a weapon like Rob, why not use it?

“In risky situations, let’s just play the field-position game. Pin them deep, make the stop, get the ball back in great position.

“His skills allowed us to do that.”

Kilam says now that he had an inkling all season long that the retirement option was very much in the cards, but nothing was actually said between the two on the subject.

“So then when I met with him after the (semi-final loss to Winnipeg), I knew that he knew this was the right choice,’’ says Kilam, with something bordering on parental pride. “I mean, just talking to him, you knew.

“I have a great relationship with the guy. I’ve known him since he was a kid.

“I knew there was no talking him out of it. So we just hugged and I told him that it was a privilege for me to work with him.”

In retirement, Maver isn’t going far.

“Calgary has been a very welcoming place, from Day One,’’ enthuses the transplanted Easterner. “When I was drafted back in 2010, I had no inclination that I’d wind up settling here. I met my wife here, she was actually introduced to me by a former teammate, Keenan MacDougall.

“We’ve chosen to make Calgary home. We really love living here.”

No doubting that it’ll seem awfully odd, someone other than the familiar No. 6 launching punts up, up, up into the stadium-lights-illuminated stratosphere (and throwing the odd, third-down, trick-play pass) next fall.

“It’s funny,” Maver muses. “When you first walk into that building you just want to figure things out, avoid being the guy to get that shoulder tap. I never got that sense of being that guy, but you’re just doing whatever you can to stay.

“Then you start to figure things out and your mentality shifts to how you can really excel, make a difference and impact the game from your position.

“I’m very grateful and happy for what I’ve been able to achieve with the Stampeders.”

Nailed it, he did.

Coffin corner. Inside the 10.

No chance for a return.

“I’m happy to be able to move on with my life and start my next career.

“I’m fulfilled.

“I guess that’s the simplest way to put it.”