Cote an inspiration

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

It was as beautiful a moment as McMahon Stadium has seen in years.

The kind that produces goosebumps in an otherwise uneventful evening.

While most of 29,103 on hand likely had no idea that early in the third quarter of an easy Stampeders win a young local boy had just lived a powerful lifelong dream, his countless friends and family members who car-pooled from Cochrane to witness his surprising glory were out of their minds.

Less than three years after suiting up as a two-way star for the Cochrane Cobras high school squad, Rob Cote not only played in his first CFL game last night, he starred in it.

On the tail end of a drive directed brilliantly by Henry Burris, Cote's No. 26 was called eight yards from the endzone.

Transformed into a fullback -- a position the natural slotback/running back had never played before -- Cote sprinted left, into the endzone and turned back towards the ball.

To his surprise, it was already hurtling his way and with arms outstretched he made the grab unmolested for a major.

What followed was a mob scene as virtually every member of the team took turns mauling the affable 20-year-old for catch that will forever be remember as part of his dramatic debut.

That's right, you read 20.

Many ran to him in the endzone, others waited for him to reach the bench, where only equipment manager George Hopkins was able to convince him to let go of a ball one would assume he slept with last night.

Seconds earlier, he made the jaunt from the endzone to the sideline protecting the ball with both arms in mock fashion as he floated on air towards his teammates.

In a sport in which few turn pro without at least three or four years of university ball, Cote officially did it last night with no post-secondary experience whatsoever.

On the roster sheet where many of his new teammates boast time spent in football factories like Texas A&M, Nebraska and Ohio State, the type next to his name reads 'No College.'

It meant being endlessly singled out during several camp drills where he had to be taught some of pro football's most basic blocking and schematic principles.

He simply hadn't learned any of it before.

As late as Friday, he was the last to leave the turf at McMahon Stadium where he and University of Alberta grad Neil Ternovatsky stayed late to practice endless kick-return assignments and blocking techniques.

It was there, on special teams, he was expected to see the bulk of his time.

He didn't care, he was just happy to be given a chance.

Last night he got it -- and what followed was magical.

A surprise invite to camp after Ted Hellard spotted the 6-ft. 1-in., 220-lb. talent while playing with the Stamps owner's son, Cote stuck with the club against all odds to fill myriad of backup roles.

After years of watching his CFL heroes from the stands with his family by his side, Cote became one.

A hero, that is.

The kind of inspirational story every junior football player in Canada should know about. After all, it was this time last year he was playing junior for the Victoria Rebels as two-time MVP.

Signed as a free agent April 30, now he's in the big time.

Still, as many expected, he was leaving the door open to perhaps return to junior mid-season had things not worked out with the Stamps.

They have.


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