Rooks are pawns in pieing

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Veteran Rob Lazeo and Jeff Pilon stepped up to deliver the phony rookie award yesterday, but they did issue a true statement.

"Of all my years, on many different teams, this is probably the best group of first-year players I've ever seen," said Lazeo to the assembled group of Calgary Stampeders freshman.

The future stars of the Stamps were then promptly pied in the face with whipped cream.

The fake award, trumpeted up with free flight and spending cash, went to slotback/fullback Teyo Johnson, although there are several rookie starters who could be honoured.

At times this season, the Stamps have had two true freshmen starting on the offensive line -- Dimitri Tsoumpas at right guard and Jesse Newman at left guard -- and two along the defensive line in Juwan Simpson and Charleston Hughes, and Brandon Smith and Milton Collins in the secondary.

If you count former NFLers as first-year CFLers (the veterans with whipped cream did yesterday), there is also Johnson, linebacker Saleem Rasheed and left-tackle Ben Archibald who contribute nearly every down.

That doesn't even mention the dozen or so backups such as Jabari Arthur or Demetris Summers who have great potential.

The present is great as the team has a 12-5 record, but the future is also bright. No team has started as many rookies as the Stamps have this season.

Both Newman and Tsoumpas were first-round picks this spring in the Canadian draft and are making the Stamps brain-trust look like geniuses.

Tsoumpas is the team's nominee for rookie of the year, and he joins Winnipeg Blue Bombers left guard Brendan Labatte as two lineman up for the award.

"Offensive line demands a certain level of physical maturity and knowledge of the game," Tsoumpas said.

"It's not really natural and it takes a few years to develop.

"That's why they make a big deal about rookies coming in and playing offensive line. I'm a true rookie."

The Stamps may be without Newman (knee), Archibald (pectoral) and Hughes (rib) when they face the B.C. Lions tomorrow at McMahon.

But if Hughes can't play, Simpson will once again step into a starting role.

For someone who had only played linebacker before this season, being forced into action and performing well has built his confidence.

"This is the first time I've been around a group where we bonded," Simpson, 24, said.

"This is something the coaches preach. They have told us these are the guys who will be there through thick and thin."

Newman pretended to be a bit annoyed Johnson won the first-year player award, because the 26-year-old former basketball player is in his fifth year of professional football.

"Every day, he tells me he isn't a rookie," Newman said about Johnson.

"Our lockers are next to each other, so trust me, I hear it a lot. I tell him all the time it doesn't matter if you play a few years in the NFL, you are a rookie to the CFL.

"He always comes back with 'four-year vet, four-year vet.'

"For him to accept the award is hypocritical. I hope he hears that."


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