Back with a heavy heart

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Toward the end of the session, it was all J.R. LaRose could do to choke back his tears.

It has been a tough weekend for him with the loss of his cousin's five-year old son Hunor LaRose in the Devil's Lake tragedy.

Even though he'd been given compassionate leave by Esks head coach Danny Maciocia, LaRose made it out to yesterday's workouts.

And, if he had declined the interview requests, the media would have understood.

But LaRose was man enough to sit through a hard emotional time to patiently answer questions.

"It's been extremely tough on me," said LaRose. "It's been the hardest thing by far that I've ever had to deal with."

The fact it was a life taken away much too young may have been the hardest issue LaRose has had to deal with.

"It hit so close to home," said LaRose. "I'm sure a lot of you guys have young children. I definitely look at my kids different now. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

"I definitely make sure now that every time I see my kids, I tell them that I love them because you never know what can happen.

"It hasn't just been hard on me, it's been extremely hard on my family. My cousin, her kid was supposed to have a birthday next month."

LaRose, Edmonton-born and raised, is part of a support group for his cousin.

"They've all definitely supported Chantele and that's what families are for," said LaRose. "It's sad that they have to come together for such a horrible tragedy, but the support's there. I appreciate the prayers my family is receiving from everybody else."

In some ways, having a football practice to go to has given LaRose a chance to be surrounded by another support group.

"They're like a second family to me," said LaRose. "They have my back and they've shown me a lot of support.

"They're definitely there for me and for what I need.

"The last couple of days at home have been hard. My mind's everywhere. I'm kinda fortunate to be able to come out here and focus on football a little bit and get my mind off of that.

"Being at home for me is what's the hardest. They're going through pictures of a five-year-old boy that had that smile on his face."

LaRose has agreed to be a pallbearer at the funeral, on a date that's yet to be determined. If it's tomorrow, LaRose plans to suit up for Friday's game. If it's Friday ...

"Family is more important than football," said LaRose. "If it's on Friday, then I'll have to be at home with my family."

Earlier in the day, Maciocia had been surprised when LaRose reported for duty.

"He thanked me for giving him the time off," said Maciocia.

"I didn't expect him back today. I didn't even expect to see him (Monday) until he decided there was no way he was able to go out there. I just wanted to make sure he was right to go in ... between the ears.

"You know, is he 100% and focused on what we're trying to do here? Probably not and we understand that. But, we also understand the situation. He understands that if he needs more time off, he can have it. He told me he's good to go now.

"I almost sense that this is an escape - football - coming out and practising with the guys and maybe he can get his mind off it."


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