Big Mike looks to 'Binj on QBs

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:28 AM ET

CALGARY -- Right now, the Outriders cheerleading team has a monopoly on the calendar market at McMahon Stadium.

Look out.

As a slimmed-down Mike Labinjo chatted two days ago about the results of his winter conditioning program, a handful of his defensive line counterparts wandered over to weigh in.

“As a whole, the defensive line is a lot more fit,” Labinjo said after spotting his pals.

“And a lot more sexy,” added DeVone Claybrooks.

How sexy?

“We’re going to model for fitness — underwear and stuff,” said Miguel Robede.

“What he meant to say is that we’re going to come out with a Stampeders calendar,” Claybrooks interjected. “Featuring the defensive line on the cover.”

For those wondering, Labinjo is billing himself as Mr. July, “so I can wear a Speedo.”

Even if he’s not model material just yet, there’s no doubt the 29-year-old is looking a lot better than he was at the tail-end of training camp last summer.

One of the heroes of the Stampeders’ Grey Cup victory in 2008, Labinjo returned to the field with some additional — and unwanted — weight on his 6-foot-1 frame.

He struggled to shake the extra pounds and was shifted to defensive tackle. By the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, he was a healthy scratch.

After racking up 33 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery the previous season, Labinjo finished with just 16 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in an injury-plagued 2009.

Starting with Thursday’s season-opener against the Toronto Argonauts at McMahon Stadium, he’s anxious to erase the memories of his lost season.

“This year, I think I’m in my best shape. I came to camp feeling great,” Labinjo said. “I’ve been working a lot, especially conditioning-wise, to be able to last longer and be a better player. They’re not going to be able to watch last year’s film, because I look waaaaayyyy different.

“Last year was a huge setback, and it was a very valuable learning experience, and I won’t take it for granted again,” he added. “This off-season, I put the work in, I put the time in, and the coaches have seen that and they’ve given me a chance to go back to my old boundary end position, and I’m not going to let that slip away.”

The Stamps are expecting big things out of their defensive line this summer, especially after bringing back most of their key contributors from last season.

Charleston Hughes, who tied for the team lead with six sacks despite suiting up for just eight games after a failed NFL tryout, is back for a full campaign with the Red & White.

Claybrooks and Tom Johnson will likely plug up the middle. Returnees Tearrius George, Robede and Justin Phillips will also be regulars in the rotation.

The transformation certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I like the 2010 version better than the 2009,” head coach John Hufnagel said of Labinjo, who has dropped about 30 lb. “He’s working hard, and he’ll be on the field, I’m sure, making plays.”

Right where he wants to be.

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


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