Stamps set sights high

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

The warm sunshine pouring down on McMahon Stadium yesterday wasn't nearly as bright and cheery as the Calgary Stampeders' optimism.

Scratch and claw for a CFL playoff spot in 2006? Nothing short of a title season will do if you ask the guys suiting up in Red and White this year.

"Grey Cup champions, for sure, without a doubt," declared Jeff Pilon, sweat pouring off the towering offensive lineman's frame, when asked to assess the team's potential.

The fans apparently can't wait to see that potential hit the turf, too. On the opening day of training camp some 600 Stampeders fans, an unusually high turnout for a CFL workout, eagerly soaked in their first look at the 2006 squad.

As the second longest-serving Stampeders player behind only greybeard linemate Jay McNeil, Pilon has seen plenty of success and despair since arriving in Calgary in 2000.

There was the unlikely Cup title of '01 and the unsightly debacles of 2003 and '04 when the team finished waaaay out of the playoffs.

The 2006 version of Stamps camp suggests not only is the swagger back but the skill is on the field to back up those claims.

"With the talent on this team right now, if we can play up to the level of the talent, I don't think there's another team that can stop us," Pilon said.

While the first-rate offence will garner much of the attention this spring, the men on the other side of the ball are just as keen to kickoff the season, bubbling with high expectations.

Defensive lineman Sheldon Napastuk, always confident and positive, sees an extra helping of talent in camp. The 68 players on hand, he said, will push each other toward the final cut-down date June 10.

"It's only Day 1 and I think everybody comes into every camp optimistic and excited but when you come in and see the talent we have here and you know what we're capable of, it's just exciting," Napastuk gushed.

"It doesn't even feel like a new year, just a continuation of what we started last year."

In 2005 the rebuilt Stampeders finished 11-7, losing the West semifinal to the Edmonton Eskimos, eventual Grey Cup champions.

So advanced is the lineup from a year ago and with so few starting jobs available, the team was scrimmaging just minutes into the first workout yesterday morning.

"We're already doing checks on the line and I was talking to Demetrious (Maxie) about this before practice, usually at training camp you feel rusty like you've been gone for a while but this feels like we were in pads just a month ago," Napastuk said.

"Plus, we've got some good young guys here and that's always fun to see who's going to be pushing you and who could maybe win a spot.

"I always think a good team is partly physical and a good chunk of that is just what's in your head, right?

"A lot of us have played for good teams and bad teams and you just know the difference, you can feel the difference ... none of us want to let this thing slip."

Pilon said this training camp appears to pose the strongest competition for starting jobs he's seen.

"A lot of good talent here right now," Pilon said.

"Geez, I don't think I've seen this much talent in a Stampeders camp in the seven years I've been here. It's looking good.

"There's always optimism on the first day of camp and if you aren't optimistic you shouldn't be on the team. But to be honest, this looks really good, really talented. It's scary."


Videos

Photos