TORONTO - First impressions can often be deceiving at training camp, the eyes so fixated on the path of the football that some of the game’s more subtle movements are overlooked.
Talk to veteran Dave Stala and there’s no deception when it comes to what he has seen as it relates to Hamilton’s receiving unit.
“Impressive,’’ began Stala. “I’ve never seen receivers get off to such a fast start.”
As camp evolves, the Ticats may soon find themselves with an abundance of riches at the receiving spot, a predicament any team would envy.
It’s that good, deep and bursting with Canadians, including the ageless Stala.
Under George Cortez’s offence, there’s so many formations and so much movement that every receiver can end up lining up anywhere on the field.
“This is my fourth or fifth system in the league and the routes are so different,’’ said Stala.
“Shots will be taken down the field and the movement will create matchups.”
There’s no bull when it comes to Cortez and no excuses, a system players were first introduced to when the Ticats ran an off-season mini-camp at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
“Getting that experience has helped a lot,’’ said Stala. “But there’s so much to learn and you can see each day the improvement.”
What’s obvious, even to the naked eye, is how much fitter and quicker Stala has appeared since the opening of camp.
A year ago, Stala said he weighed 200 pounds, but has shed eight pounds and the effects are pronounced.
“I’m lighter on my feet, I’m a little quicker and faster,’’ added Stala. “I’m getting out my breaks better and that creates opportunities.”
For the past three years, when he isn’t being pushed by the team’s training staff, Stala heads to Montreal, site of Catalyst Sante, where he gets everything from a diet regimen, treatment and a running program.
But a lot of Stala’s improved conditioning is based on a new product he feels will revolutionize training.
It’s called the HiTrainer, a product Stala is so passionate about that he helps in the company’s branding and marketing.
The Montreal Canadiens recently purchased the sprint-based machine that has no motor on its belt.
“It’s based an interval training that promotes conditioning,’’ said Stala, who encourages any interested party in getting more details by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The technology is impressive and I believe it’s going to be the next-big thing.”
ANOTHER KICK AT THE CAN
Luca Congi turns 29 next Friday at a time in his career when he has turned the page, when there’s no point in turning back unless it provides lessons only experience can teach.
It’s under this backdrop that Congi, a native of Waterloo, finds himself in Tiger-Town, more comfortable in his football skin, more aware of pigskin’s politics and much more grateful for an opportunity that can no longer be taken for granted.
“It feels amazing,’’ Congi beamed following Wednesday’s workout.
“I just love being here.”
He’s here because injuries and circumstance forced a parting of the ways between Congi and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
When he completed the long road required when both an MCL and ACL ligaments get torn in a kicking leg, there was no room in Regina, which essentially meant Congi was inactive for the entire season last year.
When the Ticats needed to fill the void left by Justin Medlock, who took his act back to the NFL, Congi became a viable option.
Coincidentally, Congi dons jersey No. 7, the same number Medlock wore last year when he seldom missed any field goals.
“The No. 10 is my number, but it’s retired,’’ smiled Congi, who was making reference to the Hammer’s iconic No. 10, quarterback Bernie Faloney. “I was given the choice between No. 7 and No. 18 and went with No. 7.”
Ask Congi why he selected No. 7 and he’s as philosophical as in describing his path to the Hammer. “Just because,’’ he said.
Fate has brought Congi to the Tiger-Cats and he’s genuinely appreciative for a chance to take yet another kick at the proverbial can.
“I’m here now and I’m just thankful,’’ Congi added.
“(The year away from football) taught me a lot of life lessons, let alone football lessons, and being grateful for the prior years I played professionally because it’s something not everyone can do.
“Now, I’m having that much more fun and I’m much more humbled having gone through the experience.”
Getting a chance to showcase his talents infront of family and friends provides Congi with even added motivation to succeed.
As a kid, Congi recalls his first exposure to the CFL, a visit by the Argonauts to Ivor Wynne Stadium. Surprisingly, if there was a team he supported, it was the B.C. Lions.
“When I was younger, I followed players more than teams,’’ he said. “Guy like (kicker Lui) Passaglia and (QB Doug) Flutie.”
No doubt a few youngsters within the Ticats region will be paying close attention to Congi, a more seasoned and mature professional who is embracing the moment.