Grace tackles uncertainty

Stampeders linebacker John Grace might have trouble looking for work next season. (Calgary Sun File...

Stampeders linebacker John Grace might have trouble looking for work next season. (Calgary Sun File Photo)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

After seven years of hitting other people, linebacker John Grace might be ready to hit the books.

After he hits the road out of Calgary, that is.

The seven-year CFL veteran, in his third season as a Stampeder, could be finished in Calgary after this year while a premium contract will make finding work elsewhere in 2007 a tough chore in the salary-capped CFL.

"Whatever happens, I'll keep my chin up," said Grace, who would be entering his option year next season and is convinced another CFL team will want him "I'm not bitter. I'm not sad, not disheartened. It is what it is and as a player, I signed up for this.

"I'm not going to take any shots. I've got my health and I can still play football."

The 2005 CFL defensive player of the year, Grace was benched earlier this season by defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan and has struggled with minor injuries.

Father time hasn't been kind either, as Grace will turn 30 prior to next season while a gang of younger linebackers has been brought into camp the last two years. The release of teammate George White earlier this season established the Stampeders are pondering a youth movement.

If unable to find work elsewhere, Grace has a solid education and business interests, including U.S. real estate holdings, to fall back on. The Okeechobee, Fla., native holds a bachelor's degree in criminology and another in education while he has plans to one day complete his law degree.

"It's something I think about all the time but I think I can do a lot of things. Basically I'm wondering what will be next for me," said Grace, who attended Marshall University on a football scholarship and surprised himself by making it pro.

"I'm very much a thinking person ... learning about the human mind is really interesting and that's one of the things that's drawn me to the legal profession, because I like studying people and learning why people think certain ways. That interests me.

"You've got to understand, when I was in high school I was a 170-lb. football player at 5-foot-7, so for me to even be considered for a scholarship was amazing to me.

"My whole aspiration for getting a college scholarship was to get an education. As small as I was, I thought there was absolutely no possibility, no chance of me being a professional athlete."

Although Grace could be done in Calgary, his numbers suggest he remains one of the team's top linebackers. Despite playing just 12 games this season, Grace is fifth on the team in tackles.

"I've still got a lot of football in me and I'm still one of the top defensive players in this league," Grace argued.

"When I'm on the field and I'm playing, guys take notes. I've had countless offensive and defensive co-ordinators come up to me after we've played them and said, 'Grace, you're still one of the best guys in this league. Don't worry about all this stuff, it always handles itself.'

"Opportunities will always be out there for me, I'm not worried about that. Whether I'm here or wherever, I feel like I can still play football. I'm still one of the top players in this league.

"I've earned my dues in this league, nobody opened up the door and gave me anything. I worked hard to get to this position and a season like this won't get me down. I just take all this in stride and know that when it's time for me to get on the field, you can't look at the film and say, 'John Grace is not the same player.' "

And should the Stamps' 2006 playoffs be his last CFL stop, Grace is convinced he has plenty of other options.


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