Labinjo resumes starting position

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:59 PM ET

CALGARY — When Mike Labinjo stepped onto the practice field for 2010 training camp, he resumed his old starting position in the Calgary Stampeders defence.

With memories of a forgettable 2009 still in his mind, the hulking Canadian defensive lineman intends to stay there.

A year ago, Labinjo was coming off an outstanding Grey Cup run with the Stamps where he broke out as a star, but he came into training camp heavier than normal.

He was shuffled into the interior of the line, eventually suffered a leg fracture and never got back on track.

By the time the Stamps were in the playoffs, Labinjo wasn’t even in uniform, instead getting the dreaded healthy scratch label.

So Sunday when a fresh camp opened, it was a 286-lb. Labinjo working at rush end, looking more the figure of 2008 than of last year when he was tipping the scales at 317.

“The coaches have given me the opportunity, and it’s my job to lose,” Labinjo said. “I’m not going to lose it.”

Days after the Stamps lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final last November, Labinjo sat down with head coach John Hufnagel and put a plan in place.

If Labinjo could get back into better shape (a better weight), he would get moved back to rush end, where he’s the most comfortable.

It meant staying in Calgary and working with strength and conditioning co-ordinator Brent Monson on a daily basis and changing his diet.

The Toronto native even sacrificed going home for the holidays, knowing that getting focused quickly would be what was best for him.

He did eventually go home for a visit, but only in April when he was further along in the program.

“I did a lot of soul searching,” Labinjo said. “I was able to concentrate a lot in the gym and it helped out a lot.

“It got tough. Most guys start training in February. I hit a wall around April, so I took a couple of weeks to regroup and get refreshed.

“When May rolled around, I was right back at it. That little break really helped.”

This isn’t the first time Labinjo has been challenged and responded in kind.

An elbow injury forced the former NFLer to miss the latter half of the 2007 season. So when Hufnagel took over as head coach, there was a huge question mark surrounding Labinjo.

Hufnagel asked Labinjo to prove he was a quality football player, and he did that, first playing middle linebacker before moving to rush end.

There was much talk of a Grey Cup hangover last season, and Labinjo admits he was one of those who took things for granted in being called a champion.

That’s all in the past now.

“The thing I have to prove right now is to make amends for ’09,” Labinjo said. “With the group we have on the defensive line, all of our jobs are not easier, but the load doesn’t come down to one person.

“Last year, we had three rookies on the defensive line. There was a lot of pressure put on myself. It was tough.

“This isn’t the same as ’08, where I have to do this or do that, but it’s more of a personal thing. I know I’m a better player than I was in 2009 and even 2008.

“The way I trained this off-season and the way I worked out, I know this is a better year.”

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca


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