Classic clinched it for Nealy

Stampeder receivers Ken Yon Rambo, Ryan Thelwell, Marc Boerigter, Jermaine Copeland, and Nik Lewis...

Stampeder receivers Ken Yon Rambo, Ryan Thelwell, Marc Boerigter, Jermaine Copeland, and Nik Lewis as Stamps training camp gets set to kick off for the 2007 Stampeders' season. (JIM WELLS/SUN MEDIA)

IAN BUSBY, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

All it took for Barrick Nealy to buy into the Calgary Stampeders was a sold out Labour Day crowd.

The lanky quarterback was brought in a week before the marquee regular-season game last year and stood on the sidelines for Calgary's whipping of the Edmonton Eskimos.

He soaked in the atmosphere, getting chills as Henry Burris did a front flip for a crucial touchdown.

Although Nealy left the team two weeks later to take care of family issues at home in Texas, he knew there was a future for him with the Stampeders.

"I will always remember my first game here," said Nealy about the Labour Day game.

"You hear about the CFL atmosphere but you don't understand it until you get to see it. The fans here love it. It's one of my best memories, just watching that game."

Sorry Barrick, not every game is a classic like that one.

Most days in the CFL, the team goes quietly about its work, which Nealy has been looking forward to since he left.

He kept in touch with the team and signed on to compete at this year's training camp for the No. 2 spot behind starter Henry Burris.

At first glance, Nealy is well suited to the CFL game. He stands 6 ft. 5 in. with enough agility to avoid traffic.

Although he was Southland Conference player of the year in his final year at Texas State, the Minnesota Vikings tried to convert him to receiver because of his athletic ability.

The 23-year-old was lost in minicamp and quickly cut.

"I got some bad advice in taking the Minnesota deal," Nealy said. "I had never played wideout before and I was just going off athletic ability. I was the only guy with no experience. Those minicamps were hard because you don't get a lot of coaching. I was trying to learn as I go."

There was no such problem in Stamps practice. Nealy ran scout team for a couple of weeks and was impressive enough to be considered a viable future starter.

There was no intention to dress him with Danny McManus and David Corley backing up Burris but that didn't make it any easier for Nealy to walk away, not knowing for sure if he would ever get invited back.

"When I asked to leave the team, I had tears in my eyes when I talked to coach (Tom) Higgins," Nealy said. "You never know if an opportunity such as this is going to happen again. I'm so relieved they brought me back."

Nealy is competing with former NFL first-round draft pick Akili Smith and Western Michigan product Ryan Cubit for two spots behind Burris.

The Stamps have a short-term goal of getting the backups to push Burris to be better, while long-term they would like a star to emerge.

Calgary was a quarterback factory in the '90s, when Burris and Dave Dickenson emerged. But when Wally Buono left for B.C., he took that success with him.

Nealy isn't worried about that at the moment. He just wants to learn George Cortez's offensive system and be ready if called into action.

"There's no pressure at all right now," Nealy said. "I'm just trying to get comfortable because I'm sure my time will come."


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