J.R.'s dream

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

As a wide-eyed boy, he'd sit with his friends in the Knothole Gang section at Commonwealth Stadium and cheer for the Edmonton Eskimos. The players, even Henry (Gizmo) Williams, seemed like giants to him.

Tonight, not too far removed from those summers of hero worship, J.R. Larose will walk onto the turf in the big stadium in his hometown draped in Green and Gold with family and friends looking on.

'BIG-TIME' GIZ FAN

For one night, at the very least, Larose, a 21-year-old defensive back from the Canadian Junior Football League champion Edmonton Huskies, won't be watching the Esks - he'll be one of them.

Look for the guy pinching himself.

"I think it's going to be overwhelming," said Larose. "To be watching as a kid growing up, then to play for them, I'm just blessed. It's a dream come true for me to play in Commonwealth Stadium with the Eskimos.

"I went to almost all the games. Growing up, I loved watching Gizmo. He was a big-time favourite. And Tracey Ham, Damon Allen, guys like that. It's going to be great just to be in the locker-room."

Larose, who'll have his fiancee and Huskies teammates in the stands tonight when he lines up at cornerback, has spent his first two weeks of training camp impressing the coaching staff, not gawking around like an awestruck interloper.

Larose hasn't looked out of place. And, out on the corner, there's nowhere to hide.

"He's been nothing short of remarkable," lauded secondary coach Rick Campbell. "He's a guy who is definitely talented. The thing that makes him remarkable is he hasn't played against this level of competition before, but it doesn't bother him one bit. He's a guy who just keeps scrapping and fighting."

A camp walk-on with Huskies teammate Jason Bobst, the six-foot, 199-pound CJFL all-star in 2004 is no token local-boy-makes-good story.

"He has a great work ethic," said Esks president Hugh Campbell, who has been keeping tabs from the sidelines. "I would think he would be a good candidate in future years to actually play on the team.

"I don't know how fast he actually is, but he covers people, so he's at least quick in reacting ... he's competing very favourably.

"When we bring somebody in from a junior team, we don't do it just as a courtesy. In this case, it's a guy who really has a chance. We like him a lot."

Tonight, however, it's game action. Not friendly fire.

"He's earned a chance to get playing time," Campbell said. "He would not be here if we thought he didn't have a chance."

With veteran Malcolm Frank and Keyuo Craver pencilled in ahead of him, Larose, who still has CJFL eligibility left, is a long shot. Still, that's better than no shot.

"I came into this camp thinking I'm trying to make this team," Larose said. "I'm out here trying to make plays. That's what it comes down to. I think I've been able to hold my own. Actually, I've done better than I expected."

MR. HERVEY, SIR

That said, Larose admits camp has been sort of a blend of, "Excuse me, Mr. Hervey, could you sign my helmet?" and "By the way, don't even think about beating me deep."

"When I first came here it was very intimidating," he said of lining up across from Ed Hervey, Derrell Mitchell and Jason Tucker.

"Growing up, I saw these guys on TV. Just to be playing with them, it's a great experience. I'm soaking it all in. I've been out here for two weeks now and you kind of get used to it.

I'm starting to settle down."

And tonight?

"It's going to be special," he said.


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