With how little time the Calgary Stampeders defensive unit spent on the field last game, you can’t blame the coaches for trying to find more work for them.
Mike Labinjo’s extra assignment against the Toronto Argonauts came during an offensive play in the shadows of the goal posts.
In the second quarter of the Stamps’ 30-16 Canada Day win over the Argos, the defensive lineman was tapped to hit the field and block for running back Joffrey Reynolds.
The leaner and fitter Labinjo ran over the defender to help build a hole Reynolds easily made his way through.
“It’s cool to be on the offensive side,” Labinjo said after Tuesday’s practice. “The offensive guys hate it, to be honest, but we tell them they need extra athletes.
“I saw the guy at the line, I thought I’d get him. I think
I hit him.”
More like crushed him and sent him flying.
Maybe some day, Labinjo will get his chance for a carry of his own at the goal line — a la The Fridge.
“I’ve been campaigning since 2008. Maybe they might throw me in one day,” he said. “I’ll probably just be a decoy.”
What may seem to be an insignificant part of a key play is significant to the Stampeders hopes this season.
Labinjo’s well-documented struggles last season — mainly due to his weight — and success battling the bulge in the off-season can finally be laid to rest if he plays 17 more games like the season-opener.
“Comparatively speaking, this year to last year, it’s apples and oranges,” said head coach John Hufnagel. “He played well. He needs to get better just like the team needs to get better, but I was pleased for his first outing.”
Statistically speaking, it was a nothing-doing game for the rush end.
However, they don’t keep stats for hurrying the quarterback or containing the offence, and Labinjo did a solid job of being in the face of Argos pivot Cleo Lemon.
There was even a play when Labinjo had the quarterback wrapped up but didn’t receive a sack because Lemon — wisely — threw the ball in the stands to not take the sack.
“I felt good. It felt good to go out there and contribute and feel I was making an influence on plays,” Labinjo said. “Huge difference from last year to this year. I’m looking for better things to come.
“I was over-excited on some plays, but I felt I was getting back there, causing havoc. Hopefully, the sacks will come.
“My main goal was not just to be out there, but to see what I could do. I felt my speed was good, my change of direction. I chased down Cleo Lemon a couple of times, should have had a couple of sacks.
“I felt different. I felt like my old self but also felt faster than even previous years.”
The next couple of games not only gives Labinjo a chance to show he’s truly back to the form of two seasons ago, but also an opportunity for a first.
Calgary plays at Hamilton Saturday and then is at Toronto four days later.
If all goes to plan, Labinjo, who hails from Toronto, will face his hometown team in Ontario for the first time.
In 2007, he missed out due to an elbow injury. Two years ago, it was an ankle injury suffered just a few hours before the club was to depart for Toronto. Last year, a broken leg put him on the shelf.
“Don’t do it. Don’t jinx me,” he said, knowing full well the subject of finally playing there would be broached. “I’m being extra careful this week. This is my fourth shot, fourth crack, at going out east. It has been in the back of my mind this is the game when something weird happens to me.”