Rambo's close call

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

The bullet that ripped through Ken-Yon Rambo's side, narrowly missing his spine, created more than just physical scars.

The Calgary Stampeders receiver points to the wound as a constant reminder of how lucky he is be alive, enjoying full use of his arms and legs every day on the football field.

"I've been through it all. I've been through a lot of stuff and that's just a little piece of it," acknowledges the Long Beach, Calif., native, insisting his old neighbourhood and its inherent dangers isn't a topic he enjoys discussing.

"In my area it was a little different but it's cool. You've just got your bad areas. That's how it goes down there.

"I don't like talking about it but I always keep it in the back of my mind."

Rambo, 26, was shot before his senior year of high school when reportedly approached by two men he suspected wanted to steal his car. While speeding from the scene, a bullet shattered the driver's window before piercing his side, stopping just inches from his spine.

Rambo raced for help before being rushed to hospital where doctors performed a life-saving operation to remove the slug that almost paralysed him.

"The bullet was close to hitting a lot of things," Rambo recalls of his brush with death. "It was like three inches from my spine and it makes you think about a lot of things. Makes you appreciate life, just being able to walk around and move my arms and legs. I praise God for that. It changed my life."

Named by his mother and aunt, 'Ken-Yon' stands for African Warrior, something he still relates to as a survivor on and off the football field.

At the time of the shooting, Rambo was regarded as one of the top receiving prospects in the U.S., a consensus All-American and All-State selection at Long Beach Polytechnic high school.

He was rated the top receiver in the country as a senior after catching a school-record 79 passes for 1,096 yards and 17 TDs. Living up to that promise in college, Rambo finished eighth on Ohio State's all-time reception list with 106 career catches, in an elite class with the likes of fellow Buckeyes Cris Carter and Joey Galloway.

An off-field incident involving a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge almost led to his suspension from college, although he rebounded in his senior year to lead Ohio State with 51 grabs for 729 yards.

After being drafted into the NFL by the Oakland Raiders in 2001, Rambo was released only to wind up with the Dallas Cowboys. The following year he met another receiver, Jeremaine Copeland, who signed as an option-year player after two seasons in Montreal. Copeland eventually returned to the Alouettes but not until he and Rambo had developed a tight bond on and off the field.

They've been reunited in Stampeders camp and have already been fine-tuning a touchdown dance routine, something Copeland had plenty of chances to practice in Montreal's productive offence.

"Me and Rambo became good friends, real close on the field and off the field," says Copeland, tagged 'Cope' by his pass-catching colleagues. "He can groove a little bit, we've just got to get him on the right steps. When he practises his moves we've got to get him co-ordinated and we're trying to get him right. We'll have it right before the season starts."

Rambo was up to speed on Copeland, a former Tennessee Volunteer, well before he also landed in Dallas.

"I knew of him before the Cowboys, when he was with Tennessee," Rambo recalls. "He was a great athlete there, made great plays and they won the national championship there.

"I finally had the pleasure of meeting him when he got to the Cowboys. It was good to see him again when I got up here, which made it better to arrive here and know somebody up here."

An apparent lock to earn a starting role among the Stampeders' high-octane receiving corps, Rambo is careful to not look beyond the last cuts June 18 but already is catching Cope's dance fever.

"I'm not too much of a dancer but I'll have to get with it," says a laughing Rambo, who will likely also get a shot at the endzone on kickoff and punt returns.

So far, his first experience in Canada has been positive. He should play a key role in the Stampeders aerial attack, quarterbacked by Henry Burris.

"I like it and I'm learning the game, although it's a little bit different up here, I like it," Rambo says. "It's an offensive game which is great for me. I just need to come out and try to make some plays and get to the Grey Cup, step by step."

Much like learning Copeland's touchdown dance moves.


Photos