Locker-room baby boom

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Jeff Pilon is accustomed to sweaty duels with some of the CFL's toughest, most intimidating defensive ends.

It is backbreaking work for the Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman, not suitable for the weak or squeamish. Yet his professional life didn't prepare the beefy seven-year Stampeder for a recent assignment that left him feeling like a ham-fisted rookie. Pilon was nearly brought to his knees during his first diaper-changing mission, a rather foul warmup for October when he'll become a father for the first time.

"I pulled the old diaper off, cleaned up the 'stuff,' that was fine," says Pilon, who recently cared for a friend's baby along with expectant wife Kelly.

"Then I put the new diaper on the baby and my wife's laughing at me. I had the diaper on backwards. I had no clue. How do you make this thing stick? Then I figured out it's two-way tape."

Aside from some sticky diaper problems, Pilon is excited about parenthood, as is teammate Randy Chevrier, whose wife Tania is also expecting their first child in October.

Pilon's wife is due Oct. 3, between Stampeders road games in Toronto and Vancouver. Tania Chevrier is due Oct. 21, the same day as the Stampeders final regular-season game in Winnipeg.

While babies almost never arrive on time, it sets up a conundrum for professional athletes dedicated to their teams but excited about parenthood.

"That's a tough call and I'm still kind of debating it," said Randy Chevrier, a d-lineman and long-snapper.

"If I was just playing on the d-line it might be a little easier decision because Sheldon (Napastuk) and I rotate a lot. But because I'm snapping on the punts and field goals, you never know if our season comes down to one point and I need to be the guy snapping on the field goal. We'll see as it comes closer to the end of the year, what our needs are, where we're sitting.

"It's more than I've ever had on my plate but everybody says it changes your life."

Pilon said he would skip a game to be with his wife during labour, an attitude supported by Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins.

"You've got to keep things in perspective and for me it's faith, family and something to do," said Higgins, a father of three.

"Some people put faith or family first, either one. We choose to be in the limelight but we need to prioritize. The wives and girlfriends are an important part of this team. It keeps it in perspective. If your football career ends tomorrow, is your life over? Heck no."

It's an easy call for Pilon.

"I'm never going to miss this, I don't care for what," Pilon said. "I'm not missing my kid's birth."

John Grace's wife had their first child, Julion, in June. Assistant coach Gino DiVincentis and wife Sherri have a 10-month-old daughter Alyssa.

Quarterback Henry Burris, also a new first-time father, occasionally rolls into McMahon Stadium looking a little bleary-eyed, the product of helping out wife Nicole at home with four-month-old son Armand.

"Nicole and I have a plan where the first couple nights of the week I help out throughout the night but when we get within that two/three-day window she gets up throughout the night to take care of the baby," Burris said.

"It's definitely a dramatic change in your life to have somebody there who you put your heart and soul into. People tell you not to jump every time he cries because you'll spoil them but it's so hard not to."

The transition has been easier for Burris because he knows Higgins and the organization are there for support.

"That's one thing I acknowledged about him when I first met him and that is that faith and family comes first before anything else in this world. Football's just a game but when it's done your family and faith will still be there.

"It adds so much perspective to your life."

Other players are seasoned pros at parenthood. Linebacker George White is the father of five, including four-month-old daughter Mya.

"It's really only bad the first few weeks because you're so paranoid whether they're breathing and you jump every time they move but once you get over that, you'll be all right," White said.

"I went to school to be a teacher and I always wanted a big family and I got what I asked for.

"It's how you approach it. If you let them stress you out, that's what they'll do."

Linebacker Cornelius Anthony has three girls, with the youngest just six months.

"It's tough but the good thing about football is it's not year-round," Anthony said.

"During the time I'm off I make it a point to spend time with my girls and my wife. We have three daughters and the oldest is three and the youngest is six months.

"Coach Higgins always preaches faith, family and then football. He understands and I thank God for having a coach like that."

Pilon is already getting excited.

"We've got a crib and the room all set up so it's starting to become more real," Pilon said.

"It's going to be great. It'll be awesome, I'm so excited, especially now when I see guys bring their kids into the locker-room to experience seeing their father playing a sport and, to have that as a kid, that's awesome."


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