Cates playing 4 his friend

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

Every time Wes Cates makes a play this season, he will be reminded of a late friend.

When the Calgary Stampeders running back carries the ball, catches it or makes a special-teams tackle, the public address announcer will say "No. 4 Wes Cates."

He wouldn't have it any other way. Cates switched from No. 25 this season as a tribute to college teammate R.J. Abercrombie, who was killed during a shooting incident in 2002.

Wearing Abercrombie's number reminds Cates of his friend and roommate who was a star kick returner at California University of Pennsylvania, where the second-year CFLer was a record-setting running back.

"We were drawn to each other," Cates said. "He was a junior-college transfer. He came in a year after I was already there.

"We clicked right away and were great buddies immediately. We made it a point to be roommates that last year.

"We spent some great times together and got to know each other really well.

"He was a great athlete. He came off a knee injury -- an ACL tear -- but still ran a 4.3. He was a great kickoff returner, leading Div. II in his last year.

"He was definitely going places but grew up in one of the rougher neighbourhoods. I feel blessed to have him in my life for the short time I did."

Cates tried to get the No. 4 last year in his first season with the Stampeders but that digit already belonged to backup quarterback David Corley.

He told equipment manager George Hopkins about his story and that if the number ever came up, he would like to get it.

Hopkins commited that to memory and when the players arrived at this year's training camp, the No. 4 was next to the Cates nameplate above his locker.

Cates was moved by the gesture.

"Geo knew that I wanted the number and he just gave it to me without my knowledge," Cates said. "I appreciate that from him. He's always looking out for me."

Wearing his new No. 4 against the Edmonton Eskimos in the pre-season Friday, Cates was one of the game stars, carrying the ball seven times for 60 yards.

He made a strong statement that he should be the main backup to starting running back Joffrey Reynolds.

Either Cates or newcomer Ken Simonton will make the team as a reserve and Cates has the advantage of being a strong special-teams cover player, which he displayed most of last season.

Still, he knows if is to make the team and honour his friend, he must duplicate that performance again Friday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina during the final pre-season tuneup.

"We had a good showing as a team and, individually, some guys stood out," Cates said about the 28-3 win over Edmonton. "I was fortunate to be one of those guys. I got more carries than all the other running backs. It wasn't really supposed to be that way but I made the most of it."

With the No. 4 on his back, Cates believes 2007 could be a big year for him.

"I want to make a name for myself in this league," Cates said. "I feel as long as I get my opportunities, I will make the most of them."


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