HAMILTON - For Dave Stala, life as a football player has come full circle.
When he was learning the ropes and trying to absorb everything he could about the game, Stala remembers the moments when he’d poke fun at his senior, more seasoned teammates.
When he was attending high school, Stala recalls the time when an established player such as Mike Morreale would take Stala under his wing and leave such an impression that Stala now returns the favour for aspiring kids in the Hammer.
Not the quickest and not exactly the most athletically talented player in the CFL, there aren’t many quite like Stala, a mentor and suddenly a go-to guy for the Ticats following the trade of Arland Bruce III to the B.C. Lions.
When he looks around, Stala sees a lot of young receivers and can’t help but turn back the clock to a time when he was a greenhorn surrounded by experience.
“It’s a compliment for being here this long,” the nine-year vet began following Wednesday’s workout. “I remember when I was younger and making fun of the older guys.
“And now, it’s the other way around. But it’s a good thing. It means I’ve been around.”
Stala turns 32 this October, his future dependent on how well his body continues to react to the daily grind of an 18-game regular season and the demands that are required in the off-season.
As he’s evolved, Stala says he’s paying much closer attention to training and diet, becoming more aware of route running and understanding every offensive nuance.
At his current pace, Stala is likely to post career numbers in this, his ninth season in the CFL.
But there are so many intangibles he brings to the Ticats that numbers alone can’t do them justice.
With so many inexperienced receivers, a unit that continues to await the return of the injured Maurice Mann, Stala has become a coach.
During his time in Montreal, Stala and Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille first crossed paths.
“He’s so much more mature,” Bellefeuille said of Stala. “His growth as a person and as a player has sort of coincided. He’s become a mentor on and off the field.
“And his preparation is so much better now.”
Every quarterback needs a security blanket, a guy he can turn to and trust when a play needs to be made under adverse conditions.
For Ticat quarterback Kevin Glenn, it’s Stala.
“He has that rapport with Kevin,” Ticats offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones said of Stala.
“He’s always been a smart player, it’s one of his stronger points. He gets the game, he understands space and where he needs to be in certain times and how to get the football.
“He’s always in the right place at the right time and he knows where all the receivers need to be.”
At no point in his career has Stala been asked to shoulder so much; at no point has he felt as comfortable as he does now.
“It took some time, but it’s all coming together now,” Stala said. “Last year was my best year (receptions and touchdowns) and I’m on pace to do better.
“If you want to call it my peak years, so be it, but I’ll play this game as long as my body allows me.”
Whether he’s playing or whether he moves to his next stage in his life, Stala plans to always give back to his community.
As a Grade 11 student, Stala remembers meeting Morreale, a fellow resident of Hamilton who played for the Ticats, introducing Stala to players and providing such items as gloves to wear for games, sleeves to protect various aches and advice that would serve him well.
Before every Ticats home game, Stala treats a group of kids to a meet-and-greet on the field, distributes T-shirts and hosts a pizza party.
He visits schools in the local area, supports fund-raising events for kids and next week Stala will conduct a youth football camp at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
“I’ll do as much as I can for the community,” added Stala.
And as much as he can for the Ticats.