Keepin' the faith

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

Tony Stallings is convinced the man upstairs, not to mention the Calgary Stampeders coaches, is keeping track.

If enthusiasm, tenacity and faith count, the second-year Calgary Stampeders tailback has been running up the score.

And he hopes it will pay off this season.

Stallings was the epitome of persistence last year, sitting on the practice roster for almost the entire CFL campaign, patiently awaiting a chance to prove himself.

It can be a lonely, financially painful existence, practising every day for an entire season without receiving a game cheque.

But not only did Stallings endure, the 28-year-old Louisville product exuded an upbeat glow that defied logic.

How could anyone, 100% healthy, sit on the shelf game after game, week after week, without it affecting his outlook on football and life?

The devout Christian, who entered the ministry three years ago, always had an answer.

"Man, I just love to do it," he beamed about his return to camp in 2006, this time with a legitimate chance to win a roster spot.

"We're up here for 32 weeks and I never gave up last year. I kept praying and never gave up and this is my reward for sticking in there to be a part of the team.

"This will be great. This is my reward. I'm really looking forward to it and it will be great."

Stallings finally got on the field for the last three regular-season games and West semifinal in 2005. He looked strong on kickoff returns and rushed the ball five times for 90 yards.

He is expected to win a roster spot this spring, along with starting tailback Joffrey Reynolds and running back David Allen. Rookie Wes Cates is also in camp.

Reynolds carried the majority of the workload last season, while Allen was sensational in his four appearances late in the season.

For Stallings, this year is his first real crack at playing full time after a couple of seasons in the Arena League.

"This is the culmination of everything I've been working on since I was 11," Stallings said. "I've been through a lot. I've had lots of tests before I got to Calgary and all those tests prepared me for this.

"Growing up. I never got handouts or favours but saw a lot of other people get handouts and favours. All I ever wanted was for things to be fair, line up against the other guy and let him beat me, don't give it to him. But life's not fair. Those are the kinds of things in life that give me strength."

He said waiting for his chance to win a roster spot last year also offered him time to share his spirituality with teammates.

"The guys need spiritual guidance and friends. Some guys grew up without their fathers, so I focus on other things and that stuff carried me through last season," Stallings said.

"If your spirit is strong, you can make it."

His greatest asset might be as a returner, where he has worked in the off-season to improve his speed and agility.

"That's what I want to do, help out in any way I can -- some receiving, punt returns kick returns," Stallings said.


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