Big bear set to return

The Stamps are expecting to unleash Mike Labinjo into the lineup against the Ticats. (Sun...

The Stamps are expecting to unleash Mike Labinjo into the lineup against the Ticats. (Sun Media/Lyle Aspinall)

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

The Grizzly Bear was in hibernation.

Now, the Calgary Stampeders are hoping he emerges from his slumber angry and fired up.

With the Hamilton Tiger-Cats coming to town Saturday (5 p.m., McMahon Stadium, TSN), the Stamps are expecting to unleash Mike Labinjo into the lineup.

"Him playing on the field is a pot of honey for him, so when it's not there he gets a bit worked up," said Stamps safety Wes Lysack, referring to his 305-lb. pal as a big bear.

"He gets grumpy. We'll see if we can get him some honey."

Labinjo suffered a fractured leg in a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Aug. 8 and has missed six games.

The worst part was spending the first three weeks of the seven out on crutches, keeping as much weight as possible off the injury just below the knee joint.

That meant plenty of standing and watching.

"Everyone was telling me I had a vacation in the middle of the season," Labinjo said. "I played six games, missed six games and come back for the last six games.

"It's been tough. To be honest, I hate sitting and watching our team, especially when we lose a game.

"I feel somewhat responsible if we lose. If we don't do well against the run or we aren't getting sacks, I feel I could have made a difference if I was on the field."

When Labinjo was injured, the starting defensive line consisted of himself, Malik Jackson, Odell Willis and Tom Johnson.

Since then, Tearrius George and Charleston Hughes have returned from NFL stints, while DeVone Claybrooks and Jim Davis were added as free agents.

The veteran Canadian just hopes he fits in there somewhere, as fellow non-imports Miguel Robede, Fernand Kashama and Justin Phillips are also vying for playing time.

But Labinjo is a special player, as witnessed during the playoff run last year when he stuffed Stefan Logan and the B.C. Lions on a goal-line stand in the West final.

"He can be a force out there," said Stamps head coach John Hufnagel.

"A presence. We moved him inside and when he was there we did a very good job against the run. He has to get in shape. That's what we're concerned about right now.

"If he's not in game shape and we get a nick with another player at the interior position and he has to play 60 plays, I have to have confidence he can do the job."

Labinjo has heard the chatter among fans who think he's out of shape.

It just so happens he carries a lot of muscle after training hard for the season.

The extra pounds don't seem to hurt him on the field.

"Some people don't understand I was 305 at the Grey Cup," Labinjo said. "The bio says I'm 280. I'm actually 304 now, so I'm basically the same.

"When you see me, you probably don't think I'm a 300-pounder. It's what people think when things aren't going your way. I went from outside to inside and I was getting double-teamed and sometimes triple teamed. It's not fun taking on 900 lb. of men.

"Hopefully, when I come back, I can go back to what I was doing best and get those fans off my back."

Lysack refers to Labinjo as the "deep threat" of the defence, the guy who steps up and makes a huge play when the team needs one.

Each game from now on is getting more important, so Labinjo can't wait to duplicate his performance from a year ago.

"As it got closer to crunch time, I raised my level of play," Labinjo said. "When you make the playoffs, it's not just about winning the Grey Cup. There's money on the line.

"I've always been a performer like that. The six weeks off might be a blessing in disguise. I had to go through the grind of six games.

"I have a fresh start so hopefully that propels me into the playoff run."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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