Dose of CFL reality

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

The way Jim Barker describes the scene, it almost sounds like a reality TV series in the making.

Defensive end Justin Brown figures footage of the Calgary Stampeders' off-season free-agent camp near DeLand, Fla., would be worth tuning in to.

"We came in there and they showed us where we were sleeping and we were in bunk-beds, and I knew right then I was in for an adventure," Brown said. "I think they could've made a Real World or a Survivor out of it or something like that, because it was almost like that.

"We were cut off from civilization. You'd see people walking around at night with cellphone lights all through the field trying to find a bar of service. It was definitely an experience I'll never forget."

Even before earning an invite to battle for jobs at main camp at McMahon Stadium, the bulk of the Stampeders' latest crop of newcomers strutted their stuff for the coaches and personnel staff a few miles off the beaten track in sunny Florida.

"They don't know what to expect," said Barker, Calgary's director of player personnel. "We take them out into the middle of nowhere. They fly into Orlando and then drive for an hour, and then there's a 10-minute dirt road to get to where we're going.

"It's kind of like Field of Dreams."

Truth be told, the Stampeders brass is never sure what to expect either.

The off-season free-agent camp is the culmination of months of scouring for would-be CFLers. The majority of players that caught the scouts' eyes were invited to take the field at an 80-acre former hunting ranch near the Ocala National Forest, where they're subject to rigourous testing and given what's usually their first taste of three-down football.

They all showed up in DeLand with one thing on their minds.

"There wasn't a lot of buddy-buddy stuff going on because everyone is out there looking for a job," Brown said. "We were just out in some palm trees and some fields, so I think everybody was a little out of their element and uncomfortable and out there just working, trying to strive to make a name for themselves."

Of those that punched tickets to training camp in Calgary, quite a few -- including third-string pivot Drew Tate and projected defensive starters like Brown and linebacker Tray Blackmon -- survived the final roster cuts and will start the season on the 46-man roster.

When Davanzo Tate settled into his bunk-bed in DeLand, that's exactly what he was dreaming about.

"I had to dream to be here, or it would've been far-fetched," said Tate, who attended rookie camp with the NFL's New York Giants last year but had been working as a corrections officer at a juvenile detention centre.

"This is what I pictured, trying to get myself here to be in this position that I am right now."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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