Juwan Simpson never gave up.
There were times last season, though, when he wondered whether the Calgary Stampeders coaching staff was close to giving up on him.
“You just always have that doubt in your head and, of course, when you’re not playing, you try to find the negative in things,” Simpson said. “The one thing that keeps you sane is the fact that you’re still here. You think, ‘Alright, I’m still here. There must be some type of interest.’
“But you just never really know, with the business aspect of sports, where you’re going to be. But I’m glad I’m still here.”
The Stamps must be satisfied, too.
After two up-and-down seasons as a defensive end, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder seems to have found a home at middle linebacker.
Heading into Saturday’s showdown against the B.C. Lions at Empire Field, Simpson leads the team with a career-high 22 defensive tackles. He already has two sacks, one forced fumble and seven special-teams stops.
Not bad for a guy who was scratched for seven consecutive games near the end of last season and wasn’t certain of his future at McMahon Stadium.
“I’m just making the plays that come to me,” Simpson shrugged. “I’m not doing anything great or anything major. I’ve just been in the mix of all the plays, you know?
“And I take pride in being out there and knowing I have an opportunity to make that play every chance.”
Perhaps a return to his old position was the opportunity he’s been waiting for.
Simpson was a starting linebacker for the powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide for three seasons and even scored a brief NFL tryout with the Green Bay Packers.
Now in his third season with the Stampeders, his familiarity with co-ordinator Chris Jones’ defensive scheme is paying dividends.
“He’s been in this sytem long enough and the coach believes he can play that position, and he’s done very well at it,” said Stamps strong-side linebacker Keon Raymond. “He’s just knows the overall scheme of the defence. He’s been in this system for three years now, he’s physical and he can run.
“And like he’ll tell you, being from the University of Alabama, he can do anything.”
Sure seems that way.
Simpson, 26, has always been known to sport a smile, but it seems a bit brighter than it was last summer.
“It makes it that much sweeter, but it also makes you work that much harder because you know where you can be or where you came from,” Simpson said. “That’s the thing that humbled me the most is I had a successful season my first year — won a Grey Cup, blahsie, blahsie — so I felt like I went from the top and last year was all ther way down to the bottom.
“You use that as inspiration to make you work harder, to give you that extra wind when you’re tired, because you know when your ball is not up to par, you can be back to that level.”