At most, Burke Dales has a part in six to 12 plays per game, depending on how well the offence is playing.
But the Calgary Stampeders punter may be indirectly responsible for a lot more than what shows up on a stats sheet.
Early this season, receiver Johnny Forzani was struggling with the mental part of the CFL game. As a second-year player who desperately wanted to succeed, Forzani was feeling a great degree of nervousness and anxiety before games.
Head coach John Hufnagel recommended the 22-year-old speak with sports psychologist Dr. Frank Lodato, who has helped many players on the Stamps.
Lodato recommended Forzani go to a teammate instead of over-the-phone consultations, and Dales was the guy to see.
“He’s like my shrink,” Forzani said of Dales. “He knows how to eliminate pressure for me. Ever since I’ve been talking to him, I feel way better.
“Anybody who says they don’t get nervous before a game is lying. You aren’t scared, but there are nervous feelings when you have a competition at a high level like this. He really helps me alleviate it. Since I started talking to him, I feel better. He deserves a lot of credit.”
It’s working — really well, actually. Forzani scored his first two CFL touchdowns last week in a 38-31 win over the Montreal Alouettes. The performance — Forzani’s first 100-yard game — earned him Canadian player of the week, plus he picked up player of the month honours for August.
Usually, Forzani and Dales will sit down and talk for about 10 minutes, and the 34-year-old punter will bring some inspirational quotes for the local product to read.
After seven years in the league in a position that mostly a mental battle, Dales knows how to calm himself before heading onto the field.
“I remind him it’s just a game,” Dales said. “The only pressure he’s really under is the pressure he’s putting on himself. He’s really taken to it. Some people find it hokey.
“It’s psychosomatic. If you believe in it, it really does work. The mind is the most powerful tool we have in life. It comes into play in everything we do. If you control the mind in your job, you can really excel.”
When the Stamps used a third-round pick to take Forzani out of Washington State in the 2010 supplemental draft, there were people who cried nepotism. GM-head coach John Hufnagel is Forzani’s godfather, and Johnny’s father, Tom, is a Hall-of-Famer who starred for the Stamps.
In hindsight, the move was a steal for the Stamps.
When Johnny Forzani suits up Monday in the Labour Day Classic, it will be his 28th organized football game. Ever. He didn’t play high school football, and his first experience in the game was to run routes against the Stampeders defence in 2008.
No wonder he had a bit of anxiety becoming a CFL starter just three years later.
“People don’t believe me,” Forzani said about his career path. “I wonder how many other kids have my story. I don’t know of any. I know it’s hard for a lot of people to believe because it just doesn’t happen.”