Hufnagel calls Labinjo out

Mike Labinjo didn't impress Stamps head coach John Hufnagel in Saturday's win over Hamilton. (Mike...

Mike Labinjo didn't impress Stamps head coach John Hufnagel in Saturday's win over Hamilton. (Mike Drew/QMI AGENCY)

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:09 PM ET

HAMILTON — Mike Labinjo is so nervous about missing his homecoming he’s shut himself into his hotel room so he doesn’t have a mysterious accident.

And if the pressure of finally playing in front of his mother at Rogers Centre wasn’t enough, now the fourth-year Calgary Stampeders defensive end is on notice from his head coach.

Asked a softball question about Labinjo’s pending homecoming, John Hufnagel laid down a challenge.

“It better be night and day on how he plays Wednesday compared with how he played against Hamilton,” Hufnagel said.

“If he plays another game like he did in Hamilton, there will be no more Mike Labinjo. I didn’t appreciate the way he played.”

When pressed further to elaborate on his pointed remark, Hufnagel wouldn’t comment further.

Against the Tiger-Cats, Labinjo only recorded one special teams tackle, although he did team up with Eric Fraser to squish quarterback Kevin Glenn after he threw the ball away.

Labinjo had a solid opener against the Toronto Argonauts at home and appeared to have erased memories of a dreadful 2009 when he finished the season as a healthy scratch.

The pressure to play well at Rogers Centre was already going to be high for the 30-year-old.

He has seen plenty of players have horrible outings in CFL homecomings, and the best example is former teammate Sandro DeAngelis, who has a lifetime 55.5% field-goal percentage in Hamilton.

“In sports, guys playing in front of family for the first time have probably their worst games,” Labinjo said.

“Guys get too excited and try to do too much. It might be a blessing in disguise that I have missed the past few years against Toronto.

“I will just stay calm and not let it get into my head. The big issue is guys looking into the stands and trying to impress family and friends.

“You have to stick to your overall game.”

In his first season (2007), Labinjo arrived after the Stamps had already played in Toronto.

In 2008, just hours before he was going to step on the airplane, Labinjo sprained an ankle and was left at home.

Last season, a broken leg knocked him out in Week 6 and he again missed the trip in Week 9.

He actually hasn’t stepped inside Rogers Centre since 1998 when he played a high school championship game there.

“My mom refuses to talk to me until game day now,” Labinjo said. “It was tough the one year. My family had a box for that game.

“That was a tough phone call. They had to cancel the box.

“We haven’t even discussed what she’s doing. She honestly believes I don’t want to play there in front of her in Toronto.

“She told me that last year when I got hurt again.”

After coming through Saturday’s game unharmed, Labinjo has kept a low profile in Hamilton. Other than practice, he spent time in the hotel room, estimating it was about 15 hours of safety.

Roommate Wes Lysack is doing all he can to help him arrive ready to play.

“For him to be there this year is good for him and obviously good for our team,” Lysack said. “I might have buy some bubble wrap — a whole bunch of it.

“Maybe I will just wrap his mattress around him when we walk outside.”

ian.busby@calgarysun.com


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