It’s not about how you start.
It’s how you finish.
And that’s a good thing for this year’s version of the Stampeders.
Things did not begin well for the Red & White, sitting with a 2-5 record at the midway point of the season. And although the games were close and could have gone either way at times, they were losses all the same and put the team in a big hole.
But challenges were expected for this team, as they had the least amount of experience in their lineup in the CFL based on career game (27.7) and start (14.3) averages. They also happened to be the youngest group in the league.
“We knew it would take time. Everything gets better with reps,” said veteran lineman Shawn Lemon. “We had a lot of guys who were new to the CFL, new to the Stampeder way. It takes time. It takes time to learn the system, learn how we do things here and how to go out and execute it against an opponent. We knew it would take time.
“At no point during the season did anyone in the locker-room that ever feel like we couldn’t have won those games that we lost early on. One or two plays made the difference in those games and we’re just happy to be making those one or two plays now.”
As the reps have increased for the youngsters, the Stamps have seen players such as Darnell Sankey, Cody Grace, Bryce Bell, and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund flourish and become key contributors down the stretch.
While the talent was always there, the veteran Stampeders have made a point of trying to push their younger teammates to new levels in pursuit of a championship.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that the first time I played here, I was one of the young guys,” explained Lemon. “I had guys like Corey Mace to help me and guide me along the way. Those guys showed me how to lead, how to be a leader.
“With every team that has a lot of young guys, the only way that team is going to be able to take the next step is to have those leaders. I took that as a challenge for myself and the older guys, like Jamar Wall, we took that as a challenge. Those young guys are only going to be as good as we lead. We try to lead by example, give them some tips or drop some knowledge here and there, just give them something that can help them improve.”
Well, those words of advice were taken to heart and since the halfway mark of the season, Calgary has posted a league-best 6-1 record.
“It’s a testament to the coaches that we have here,” said Lemon. “They prepare us well for the game, the game plans are extremely detailed and we understand how we want to attack opponents. It’s a testament to those guys bringing the right group of guys into the room that fit the stampeder way.
“I think it’s just coming in and competing, competing at McMahon Stadium against each other. We’re fortunate to go against the best offence in the league as a defence, so we get to go out and compete against those guys in team period. Coaches demand more out of us and as players, we responded. We just need to keep executing and playing fast.”
With a West Semi-Final match-up around the corner – Nov. 28 at Mosaic Stadium in Saskatchewan, to be exact – the Stamps players are more than ready for their fourth battle with Riders this season.
“We have a lot of confidence, we know what we can do. We know that we’re a good road team as well,” Lemon explained. “We’ve won there before, so we’ve just got to come in – Saskatchewan is a good team, but – we just have to focus on the things that we need to focus on. Just stick to what’s gotten us to where we are at now. We were in a hole at 2-5 and the naysayers, the media, folks around the league were counting us out, but as long as we believe on the inside and execute our game plan, we’ll be fine.
“We’re going to come out and compete and play hard and fly around, and be a team that understands what it means to put that Red & White on. We’re going to play as hard as possible and the only way we know how to play; the same way we’ve played the last 7 weeks of the season.
Despite being the visitor in this post-season tussle, Lemon and company aren’t concerned.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lemon quickly asserted. “There’s going to be a 44-man roster on both sides. As long as those 44 are together, it doesn’t matter if this game is played in Chicago, Cancun, Mexico, we’re going to come out and compete regardless. As long as I have my 44 teammates with me, it doesn’t matter.”