Edmonton Eskimos fans better get used to seeing J.R. LaRose.
The local product could be here for a while.
Last week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, LaRose, 22, got his first start for the Eskimos, filling in at safety for the injured Will Loftus.
The former Edmonton Huskies standout was impressive, finishing the game with five tackles and five hits.
"I think he'll patrol centre field here for at least eight, 10, maybe even 12 years," predicted Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "He was unbelievable. If you watched him in the game, he made a great play in the end zone against Jason French. He was on the receiver's hip all the way, he played it perfectly without making any contact, staying away from a pass interference call."
LaRose has been a pleasant surprise for the Eskimos. A year ago, he earned a practice roster spot with the team and dressed in an emergency situation for one game.
This year, LaRose earned a roster spot and was mainly utilized on special teams before getting an opportunity to start against the Roughriders.
"I was just happy to get the opportunity to go out there and prove to the coaches and players that I do deserve to play in this league and with this team," LaRose said. "I was excited. I just wanted to go out there and make sure I took care of my assignments and went and gave it 110%.
"Every play that I was on, I was trying to fly out there and make plays."
He did. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Only linebacker Quincy Stewart had as many tackles against the Roughriders as LaRose.
"I think something that really helped him greatly was being at training camp last year," said Maciocia.
"He went up against guys like (Jason) Tucker, (Ed) Hervey, and Mookie (Mitchell). When you come back for the second time, you say 'I've seen this before and I know how these guys operate.' "
Heading into last Friday's contest, LaRose had seven special teams tackles in four games this season. The six-foot-one, 197-pound graduate of Strathcona high school, had not recorded a defensive tackle.
"It's a tough adjustment playing junior football and going to the pros," LaRose said. "This is a way higher level. It's a huge step. The players are way faster and stronger. Everything is about timing. The ball's going to be there on time, so the biggest thing for me is getting in the weight room, work on my speed and getting into the playbook and getting the system down."
Having been predominately a cornerback in junior, switching to the safety position is also an adjustment.
"You're keying on the two slotbacks, as opposed to the corners where you're just looking at your one receiver," LaRose said. "It was a huge adjustment, but I'm taking strides with it each week and I have a lot of veteran guys helping me out."
VERSATILITY A BIG KEY
It's not uncommon for talented players to switch positions when they turn pro. Eskimos fullback Mathieu Bertrand was a quarterback in college. Offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo had played his entire career on the defensive line before joining the Eskimos.
"You try to find these guys (good athletes) and you try to plug them in," said Maciocia. "They're not easy to find, but when you do find these guys, then what you want to do is invest some time and give them an opportunity."
Along with the opportunity, LaRose is fortunate to be surrounded by a number of veterans in the Eskimos secondary.
"He listens, that's the main thing," said Eskimos defensive back Shannon Garrett. "It's important for young players to listen to the veterans because we have a lot of knowledge.
"He does that and he's got a long career ahead of him in this league."