Stampeders return to McMahon Stadium with safety on minds – Toronto Sun

Author of the article:

Daniel Austin

Calgary Stampeders quarterback crew ready for the CFL team's first training camp practice in Calgary on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Jim Wells/Postmedia
Calgary Stampeders quarterback crew ready for the CFL team’s first training camp practice in Calgary on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Jim Wells/Postmedia Photo by Calgary Sun 7D /JimWells/Postmedia

The Calgary Stampeders tried to find a balance on their day of training camp.

With news of four Saskatchewan Roughriders players tearing their Achilles tendons still fresh on the minds of everyone in the Canadian football community, Stamps players and coaches tried to strike a balance between safety and pushing themselves. 


In the end, not a single player got hurt. 

“We worked them pretty darn hard,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson. “My schedule, I’m doing my best to take it easy on them but I’m pushing them, as well, so basically contradicting myself. I wanted to make sure we practised smart but I did want to get some things done, some tempo, and we were able to do that.”

In the aftermath of the terrible injury news out of Saskatchewan and two others in Montreal, health and safety was inevitably a topic of conversation around the league. 

Ultimately, many of the players who are participating in CFL training camps have been out of action for almost two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They had to quarantine before camp started, too, so no matter how seriously they took off-season training they are likely not in perfect football shape.


Finding a balance between being safe and taking advantage of the 17 days of practice that training camp provides to get ready for the season is going to be a challenge for every team, and not just on Day 1.

“Six guys in one day, it’s very, very rare. I’ve never seen that,” said Stamps defensive back Jamar Wall. “It’s definitely on everyone’s mind to be safe and be smart and to remember you’re not going to make the team on Day 1. It’s the progress. Learn the playbook, be smart and be a professional.”

Wall himself had conversations with the Stampeders coaching staff and other players about practising safely and both he and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said they thought the team struck the right balance on Saturday.

Training camp is, inevitably, a grind. Football is a fundamentally tough sport, too, but the players emphasized the need to be honest about where their bodies are at.


“I think everyone knows we’ve been off for 21 months,” Mitchell said. “As much as you never want to think about injury, that’s a thought in the back of my head. The first time you try to outrun a d-end on a naked bootleg, maybe just go at 75 or 80% and make sure the body feels good. During COVID, there were only so many different ways you could truly compete against different guys.”

Mitchell credited Dickenson for his approach to practice and for emphasizing that he wanted players to be honest if they felt something wrong with their bodies. 

After so long without football, there was naturally a lot of excitement about being back on the field at McMahon Stadium. Nobody wants to see players — on any team — go down with an injury after waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic and earning the opportunity to finally play again.


But the Stamps only have a couple of weeks to get themselves ready for the season. They’re going to be careful and responsible, but they need to push themselves, too. Finding that balance is a real challenge.

“We probably went harder than other teams are going to do but I’m going to do it my style, the way I think is best for our team and we’re going to practice smart,” Dickenson said. “The guys are antsy to run a bit, anyways, but there won’t be any banging and we’ll limit the full-on compete drills where guys can get a little selfish at time, grab on to a guy, pull a guy, tug on a guy and get injuries that way. 

“I’ll monitor it, but I’m going to try to get better and the way I know to get better is to practice and practice with some tempo.”


Calgary Stampeders Nila Kasitati during CFL football in Calgary on Thursday, July 18, 2019.
Calgary Stampeders Nila Kasitati during CFL football in Calgary on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Al Charest/Postmedia


Shortly before training camp got underway on Saturday morning, the Calgary Stampeders announced that right tackle Nila Kasitati had decided to retire.

Kasitati was expected to start on the o-line for the Stamps this season and the decision came as a surprise to everybody. 

Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson, though, had nothing but good things to say about the 28-year-old.

“It did catch us off-guard,” Dickenson said. “Great person, great teammate, extremely hard worker. Family man and sometimes family tugs you in a different direction and we’ll miss him. We weren’t expecting it but there was no reason for me to try to change his mind because he’s a man who, when he makes a decision, he’s thought about it.”

Kasitati had travelled to Calgary before deciding to retire. He signed with the Stamps in 2018 and played 20 games for the team, including 16 starts at right tackle in 2019. His retirement likely means that Leon Johnson has the inside track on the starting job.

“You could get a sense that he had some things on his mind,” Dickenson said. “I don’t question anything with Nila, he’s just a great person. It was unfortunate and doesn’t mean he isn’t part of the Stampeders family forever.”

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