Grind gets to campers

Stampeders offensive lineman Jeff Pilon goes after rookie linebacker Ian Hazlett during a mock game...

Stampeders offensive lineman Jeff Pilon goes after rookie linebacker Ian Hazlett during a mock game at McMahon Stadium yesterday. (Sun Media/Jack Cusano)

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

The best evidence that training camp is becoming a mental and physical grind came from the voice of Jeff Pilon yesterday.

The veteran Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman had to be restrained from going after linebacker Ian Hazlett during the mock game.

Pilon instead screamed at Hazlett using some words not fit for print after the rookie tripped into quarterback Barrick Nealy.

At this point in camp, with a full week of practice behind them, the players are itching to hit someone and take an opponent to the ground.

Had Hazlett been a member of the Edmonton Eskimos or any other CFL team, surely Pilon would have unleashed some punishment.

"We have to set the tone that the quarterback doesn't get touched, I don't care if you tripped or what," said Pilon. "I would expect the same reaction from all our lineman."

The Stamps got a break from the regular two-a-day practices yesterday when they held a short one before the annual mock game.

Although there are only 10 days with two practices, those workdays are long for the players and support staff.

A typical day starts before 7 a.m. when players arrive at McMahon Stadium for treatment. They hit the field at 8 a.m. for a two-hour session, quickly shower and change and gather for meetings.

There is an hour break before the cycle is repeated for the 3 p.m. practice. If they are lucky, the players are done with their day at 9 p.m., about 14 hours from the time they started.

The Stamps have three straight long days ahead before getting ready to face the Eskimos Friday in their first pre-season game.

"The two-a-day practices, there's no way to prepare for them," said receiver Marc Boerigter, who is in his eighth pro training camp and hampered by a groin injury right now. "You could do two-a-day workouts for two months and you would still be sore when you work here."

Everyone in the football operations side experiences the grind and the coaches have the longest days.

Head coach Tom Higgins points out the equipment team led by George Hopkins, the training staff under Pat Clayton, and Ross Folan's video crew are championship calibre.

"It's a team itself and a well-oiled machine," Higgins said. "Very rarely are we ever in need of anything.

"If we need a ball, it's there. If we need a hose, it's there. It's an interesting part of the club because they don't get much outside recognition. You can't understate their importance."

The player with the most training camps under his belt is offensive lineman Jay McNeil, who is in his 14th year with the Stamps. He chuckles seeing the toll it takes on the young guys and some of the confusion he sees on their faces when they get thrown new plays.

"I only practice once a day but even when we get to the last meeting and the lights go out, I get pretty tired," McNeil said. "You know the guys who are going hard twice a day are drifting off.

"It can get to be a grind. For me, it's more physical now because I'm older. For the young guys, it's physical and mental. It gets easier mentally over time."

In his eighth camp, Pilon still has to push hard to get through the month of June.

"If this got any easier, I wouldn't ever stop," Pilon said. "Whoever invented two-a-days should be shot.


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