Large cleats to fill

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

Jeff Pilon opened his ninth CFL season with a new designation -- one he isn't taking lightly.

The starting right tackle is now the longest-serving Calgary Stampeders player due to the retirement of left guard Jay McNeil.

During his tenure with the Stamps, Pilon has learned how to conduct himself as a leader thanks to players such at McNeil, iron-man centre Jamie Crysdale and CFL Hall-of-Famer Rocco Romano.

"I feel fortunate to come back this year," said the 32-year-old. "Hopefully, down the road, guys will talk about me the way they talk about Jamie and Jay and some of the things they did.

"It's the same with Rocco and other guys who were here a long time. I try to be like those guys because they put so much into this team and put so much into themselves."

Over the past couple years, the Stamps have gone from having plenty of long-term veterans on the offensive line to being relatively young.

McNeil retired last season after a 14-year career, while Crysdale hung 'em up after the 2005 campaign.

Pilon got to see them evolve into the type of player who is looked to for guidance when things are going rough, but he won't change his style too much in terms of leadership.

"I've never been a vocal guy, never much scream or yell ... unless you tick me off," Pilon said.

"I don't believe in that kind of stuff. If you want to call me a leader, just follow what I do. I feel I practise pretty well and go about the game the right way.

"So that's all I really care about. Hopefully, down the road, they will say I worked the hardest."

The Stamps are not only dealing with trying to replace McNeil at left guard, but now they are also forced to fill the hole left by right guard Bobby Singh, who failed his physical Saturday and was released.

With the loss of Garrick Jones as a free agent, that leaves Pilon and centre Rob Lazeo as the only returning starters from last season, when the Stamps had the top-ranked offence in the CFL.

Pilon is frank in his evaluation he didn't have his best season in 2007, and he told head coach John Hufnagel that during off-season meetings.

Hufnagel said in his training-camp press conference Pilon was starting fresh with a new head coach but would be relied upon for leadership.

"Every year, you want to get better," Pilon said. "You always want to be the best you can, and you can never be satisfied.

"The old coaching saying is 'if you aren't getting better, you are getting worse.' So every time I step out there, I'd better be getting better.

"If you just continue doing what you are doing and think you are the best at something, you aren't doing what need to. You aren't focusing on doing the little things to improve."

Pilon misses Crysdale and McNeil, if for no other reason than they shared some great times and are good pals.

Pilon is the final connection to the last Stampeders Grey Cup win in 2001, although he was injured and didn't play.


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