Subdued homecoming

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 5:53 AM ET

You can tell Jesse Newman is now a veteran.

No longer are his family and friends left out in the cold when he visits B.C. Place Stadium.

The sophomore left guard has managed to beg Calgary Stampeders teammates for 20 ducats to tomorrow's meeting with the B.C. Lions.

"It took a year and a half, but now I know how to get tickets," Newman said with a laugh. "Just ask real early."

The only trouble is now the Powell River, B.C., product isn't the starter at his position. After injuring his shoulder against Hamilton in Week 11, Newman missed three games and Tim O'Neill has taken over in his place.

Although Newman has returned for two outings, he's slowly working back into action and will be a backup for his third 'homecoming' game.

"It's hard not to be disappointed when you are in front of family when you aren't starting the way you usually are," said the Louisiana-Lafayette product.

"They are coming out to see me, and I'm not playing as much as I normally would. It's a great opportunity for Tim.

"He grew up in Victoria, and I know he's fired up to start. This is his first start back in Vancouver. We grew up being Lions fans and, obviously, it's a dream to start a game there. I'm stoked for him."

O'Neill doesn't remember loving the Lions growing up, and he certainly doesn't now.

After a strong junior stint with the Victoria Rebels, O'Neill spent five seasons with the University of Calgary Dinos, with a year in there spent on the Edmonton Eskimos practice roster (2006).

There's no telling where the Stamps would be without O'Neill this season.

When veteran centre Rob Lazeo needed knee surgery and missed five games, O'Neill stepped in and didn't miss a beat.

Lazeo returned and Newman went out, so O'Neill slid over to left guard. He was sidelined for a start in Montreal due to an ankle injury and the offence suffered.

This will be the 30-year-old's 11th start this season, and he has secured eight tickets for friends and family.

"It took a long time to get here, and it was a long road," O'Neill said. "Every year has been exciting in this league. I enjoy the challenge every day. I like preparing and I really enjoy playing."

Newman can hardly feel jealous about O'Neill having success in his position. There isn't a rush for the 27-year-old to play every snap, and he can work back from his shoulder separation in an easier fashion.

"I'm sure if anyone had worries about him playing, those are long gone by now," Newman said. "I remember when he first went in at centre and people were asking whether he would be all right and be able to step in. Those questions are more than answered."

The Stamps have both Newman and Godfrey Ellis on the bench, ready to step in a moment's notice.

"We have the best backups of any team in the league," Newman said. "We all have starts under our belt. Godfrey has started a bunch of games, even though he's backing up just like me."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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