Lewis, Rambo learn to Cope

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Nik Lewis was sitting at his great aunt's funeral in Texas when he learned his best friend, mentor and longtime roommate, Jeremaine Copeland, had been traded to the Toronto Argonauts.

And while most Stampeders fans were saddened to see the classy veteran go after five exceptional seasons in Calgary, Lewis took the news much harder than most.

"That was pretty rough," said Lewis of the emotional text he received from his fellow slotback Feb. 17 while sitting in the church.

"He was like a big brother to me. Coming into the league, I was 22 and he was a vet who'd done it -- and I wanted to be that. I did a lot of things wrong, and he helped me correct that. He helped me come a long way in my career and helped make my job easier. To have him here was special. Now, I realize it more than I did then."

Arriving in Calgary one year after Lewis' sensational debut as CFL rookie of the year, Copeland took the colourful Lewis under his wing, transforming him into the only Stamps player ever to open his career with six straight 1,000-yard seasons.

"He actually called me the day before (he was traded) and said, '(Head coach John Hufnagel) wants to see me tomorrow,' and I said, 'Oh, you're going to get traded to Toronto,' " laughed the 28-year-old Lewis yesterday. "We then had a 45-minute conversation about how he couldn't be traded to Toronto because then there'd be nobody to control me and (fellow Stamps receiver Ken-Yon) Rambo.

"When there was a problem, everybody would go to Cope. Now, we don't have that. I guess Rambo and I will have to grow up."

And that, says Henry Burris, is kind of what he's seen in the team's longest-serving American .

"From a leadership standpoint, people wondered how Nik and Rambo would respond when Copeland was traded for (slotback) P.K. Sam, but the first night I met P.K. was because Rambo and Nik brought him out to my birthday party," said Burris, who made Copeland the team's leading receiver last year as Rambo was injured and Lewis was often double-teamed.

"To see them reach out to guys and help them around the city and make them feel part of the fold shows they're doing good things. And while they may not realize it, they're taking on leadership roles."

Never before had the slotback tandem of Copeland and Lewis had so much pressure on them as last year when Rambo -- the 2008 CFL receiving champ -- went down Week 1 with a season-ending injury. While still not cleared for practice just yet, Rambo expects he'll soon be able to help fill the void left by Copeland's departure.

"Cope would always bring everybody together, and there was always truth to what he said," Rambo said. "He was our choreographer for the bobsled, bicycle and relay team touchdown celebrations. We called him 'Showtime.' He's a dancer. We miss that. I think Nik's gonna (choreograph) that now, as I'm not a big dancer or talker. I lean against the wall at the club."

That sort of passiveness has never been Lewis' style. But over the years, the brash, cocky and oft-immature showboat has evolved into much more than just a mouthpiece with hands -- a development he credits Copeland with shaping.

"I think I'll always be a Toys R Us kid, but while I'm gonna have fun, I'm gonna lead -- not the way Cope did but my own way," Lewis said. "I came into the league, and I've called people out, and I did what I needed to make a name for myself. I didn't care if I walked into a stadium and everybody hated me. Now, people like me -- I had time to change it, and Cope was a big part of that. Now. I can take what he gave me and try to help the younger guys out.

"Cope was more than a player -- we'll miss him off the field far more than we will on it."

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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