McNeil's ready for lucky No. 13

Veteran Calgary Stampeders o-lineman Jay McNeil was honoured by his teammates yesterday with the...

Veteran Calgary Stampeders o-lineman Jay McNeil was honoured by his teammates yesterday with the coveted President's Ring after 12 years with the club. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Plenty has changed in the 12 years since fresh-faced rookie Jay McNeil first walked into the Calgary Stampeders locker-room.

McNeil admits he was slightly intimidated and somewhat in awe of the veteran cast of greybeard offensive linemen entrenched in front of starting QB Doug Flutie in 1994.

The Kent State grad was anxious to fit in and earn his first job as a pro.

Now the 35-year-old McNeil, a hint of silver at the temples, is one of those 'old guys' he once emulated.

Long gone are linemen Rocco Romano, Bruce Covernton, Kenny Moore and Doug Davies.

Legendary centre Jamie Crysdale, the team's senior citizen in 2005, also walked away last fall after 13 years.

"As an offensive lineman, we're like our own little group, so that first training camp in '94, I just remember sticking with our own little gang," recalls McNeil, honoured by his teammates yesterday as the President's Ring recipient for his exceptional motivational and leadership skills.

"Those veteran guys were great to me. We were rookies and you had to pay the price for being a rookie but they never once made me feel like I didn't belong.

"I said numerous times to Rocco, 'I'm never going to play as long as you have. I don't WANT to play as long as you.' Now he calls me up all the time to bug me, 'I thought you weren't going to play that long?' "

By McNeil's standards, Romano was just a pup when he packed it in after just 10 seasons.

Entering his 13th CFL campaign when Stampeders training camp kicks off May 21, McNeil owes his impressive longevity to a gruelling off-season workout regimen designed by wife Tara, who has a masters degree in exercise physiology.

"It's kind of embarrassing but I get up around 4:10 or 4:15 in the morning, go to the gym and I'm there till about 7:15, jump in the shower and go to work," says McNeil, a sales manager at Titan Drilling.

"I do that three times a week and also run. That is the key to me being able to last an entire season -- staying in good shape.

"My wife, she is the one who designs my program and she takes pride in that and every year we change it according to how my body is feeling at the end of the year. The program is tailor-made by her ... Without my off-season program, I wouldn't even make it through training camp. I'd fall apart."

The left guard's dedication has led to a three-year contract extension and the presentation yesterday of the prestigious President's Ring as just the fifth Stamps o-lineman in the past 38 years to earn the honour.

While McNeil leads by example, the award also suggests he delivers fiery locker-room speeches when necessary.

This seems to be an unlikely role for the London, Ont., native, an emotional player but not the most vocal member of the squad.

"I can be outspoken when I need to be," McNeil says. "In the locker-room, when I have to get up to say something, I'm OK with that."


Videos

Photos