Linebacker gets pick of litter

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

During an off-season that started off wondering where he fit with his team, Mike Labinjo got a most welcome phone call.

New Calgary Stampeders general manager and head coach John Hufnagel brought the second-year CFLer into the offices at McMahon Stadium and asked one main question.

Where do you want to play? Pick your spot.

Labinjo said he was a middle linebacker, so that's where Hufnagel has slotted him, giving the former NFLer a chance to excel where he is most comfortable.

After missing most of his first season with torn elbow ligaments, the 27-year-old Canadian is thankful the organization has shown so much faith in him.

"It was tough at the beginning (of the off-season) because I had heard I was playing here or there," said Labinjo, who was mostly a defensive end last season.

"So it's tough to figure out just where you might fit. This team showed they want me and seems to think I have the skills to play different positions.

"By giving me the option, it's a big sign of respect to me."

Labinjo was a third-round draft pick in 2003 who spent three season in the NFL with Philadelphia and Miami before finally arriving in Calgary early last season.

He was finally getting used to playing again when he took a couple of hits to his elbow during the Labour Day win over the Edmonton Eskimos.

Those dreaded words of 'out for the season' really hit home, but Labinjo tried to cope by coming to the stadium every day and hanging out at practice.

"I pushed really hard to get back last season, although doctors had told me it needed rest. I also wanted to show the guys I was still part of the team," Labinjo said.

"The worst thing you can do for guys who are hurt is not coming out here anymore. I wanted to help in any way possible, even it was just a cheerleader."

Once Labinjo was fully recovered and ready to resume game action, the season was over and the Stamps had lost in the first round of the playoffs.

By then, he was once again out of playing shape, so he decided to stay in Calgary during the off-season to work with strength and conditioning coach Mark Kilam.

By working with Kilam and a few other players four days a week, Labinjo got back down to his normal playing weight of 240 lb.

"It was tough because I got up to 300 at one point," he said. "Getting back down was tough, but Mark was willing to work extra with me on that to get me to lose pounds and build cardio."

So yesterday was a small victory for Labinjo. He took part in the first two practices of training camp and his elbow is holding up, although he was tentative to begin the first session.

"I've been hurt before, but I never missed that many games," Labinjo said.

"We had some contact today and it feels pretty good. I still have a ways to go and getting used to it, but closer to the season, it will get better.

"It feels like I haven't played football in years, so today was great."


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