Labinjo gets to stay

Mike Labinjo walks on the field during a Calgary Stampeders practice at McMahon Stadium on Tuesday,...

Mike Labinjo walks on the field during a Calgary Stampeders practice at McMahon Stadium on Tuesday, July 6. (Photo by LYLE ASPINALL/Calgary Sun)

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:51 PM ET

Consider the challenge met.

Now, Mike Labinjo has to continue proving to John Hufnagel he deserves to be on the field.

Two days before the Stamps met the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre, Hufnagel commented that his big Canadian defensive end needed the opposite type of outing as he had Saturday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

After reviewing the 27-24 loss to the Argos Wednesday night, Hufnagel confirmed Thursday afternoon Labinjo indeed redeemed himself.

“Mike played with better effort. He improved his play from the previous game,” Hufnagel said.

Labinjo was part of two third-down stuffs, had a tackle for a loss on running back Cory Boyd but also took a costly penalty.

On a fake punt attempt by Jamie Boreham, Labinjo was tracking down the rusher when he was tangled up with a defender and flagged.

Hufnagel can forgive the infraction because of the effort the big man showed.

“He was called for holding but when you look at the tape, the player essentially tripped over his own man,” Hufnagel said.

“They thought Mike was holding but usually when you fall on top of a person you are trying to block, that’s the way the call goes. It was unfortunate for Mike.

“If I was the referee, I probably would have thrown the flag, as well.”

In the moments after the defeat, Labinjo thought he played well but could hardly focus on the positives with a stinging loss fresh on his mind.

The team returned to Calgary Thursday, but the players weren’t made available for comments.

“It’s tough,” Labinjo said right after the loss. “I’m proud of the way our defence played. We were put in some adverse situations.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t hold the fort there at the end. That’s life.”

The game was Labinjo’s first at Rogers Centre in his CFL career.

He hadn’t even been inside the building since 1998 when he won a high school city title there.

The public comments from his coach added some pressure to play in front of friends and family — most importantly his mother — but he understood why they were happening.

“In this game, there are going to be comments made by coaches or fans,” Labinjo said.

“The most important thing was keeping my head up, not let it affect me and keep playing.

“This is one of those sports where you have to be a team player first. The defensive coaches were telling me to not do too much and just let the plays come to me.”

Hufnagel said his statements might have been blown out of proportion a bit but he stands by what he said.

The most important thing to Hufnagel was that Labinjo knows he needs to play well every game or he won’t be on the field much at all.

Hufnagel said there wasn’t going to be a scenario where the 30-year-old was going to be cut.

“When I said he had to pick up his game, the people I was talking to at the time were embellishing on how well he has played in the previous two games, so I just set the record straight,” Hufnagel said Thursday.

“He needed to play better than he did against Hamilton.”

And so he did.

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca


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