“I’m not scared to speak my mind. I know what I’m capable of. I know I can help our team win and score touchdowns. I want the coaches and quarterbacks to believe in my ability to make plays.”
But, mostly it hasn’t happened.
There were zero catches against Winnipeg. A loss.
There was one catch against Edmonton. A loss.
Only once this year has he had more than four catches in a game.
Sure he understands that this is now a team with a deeper, more talented receiving corps. On paper.
There is Andy Fantuz. And Chris Williams is a highlight reel. And Bakari Grant needs the ball. True, this is a new coaching staff, with different ideas of how to reach the Grey Cup than the deposed Marcel Bellefeuille. And, yes, he knows the ball has to be spread around to the triple-headed monster that needs feeding in the backfield.
But, when the 2010 East Division most outstanding Canadian can’t get the ball at all in two games, when he and is on pace for just 40 catches and 645 yards — his lowest season totals since arriving in Steeltown in 2009 — there is something amiss.
The Ticats lead the CFL in scoring, are second in passing and third in total yards but Stala has played an unusually small part in that, catching just 29 passes for 470 yards. Not exactly ignored but definitely underutilized.
“If we’re winning football games and other guys are scoring and making the catches I don’t really care. But we’ve been losing games and its been difficult not being part of the offence,” said Stala Tuesday as the club prepared for Friday’s showdown with the B.C. Lions.
Stala last season had 59 catches and eight TDs as the Ticats came within a game of the Grey Cup. The year before he cracked the 1,000-yard barrier with a career-high 85 receptions. So, Stala believes he has more to give — if given the opportunity.
“You do get frustrated (not getting the ball) but you try to be patient. Hopefully it will come around. If not you have to speak up and say how you feel and hopefully the changes come and the coaches start getting you the ball.”
Stala is surrounded by skilled receivers with the off-season addition of Onrea Jones, free-agent slotback Fantuz, the signing of first-round pick Sam Giguere and the evolution of Grant and Williams — the CFL’s top rookie last season.
It has left a plethora of options for quarterback Henry Burris, who leads the league with 34 TD passes and is second in passing yards (4,120).
Still, it has translated into just five wins.
“I have been incorporated (in the offence) the last few weeks and making some plays,” Stala said hopefully. “It’s been frustrating for myself to be ‘the guy’ here the last couple of years. We brought in a lot of talent in the off season and the ball has been spread around and I’ve been the guy kind of out. Down the stretch I hope to be able to make some plays and still make the most of this year.”
Make the most of it personally.
And, make the most of it as a team.
So far, Stala and the Ticats are oh-for-two. They have four games to find a fix.
“As seasons go, this has probably been the most difficult, because of a few situations. Last year was my first losing season in 10 years and this year looks like it’ll be another losing season. Not making the playoffs would be devastating for our organization considering all the talent we have.”
HOME COULD BE SWEET
It’s a good thing the Ticats play the B.C. Lions at Ivor Wynne on Friday.
A little worn and ragged, and destined for retirement after just two more games, the ol’ lady of the CFL may yet be this team’s salvation.
In a losing season the Ticats have a winning record at home (4-3).
They also have some experience knocking off first-place teams. While they lost to the Lions in B.C., the score was 39-36. So, it was close. Plus, they already have beated the Eastern Division leading Alouettes twice.
“We’ve been able to beat some good teams. Looking at this team the beginning of the season, we didn’t think we’d be in this situation,” said receiver Sam Giguere. “We thought we’d take the league by storm. I still don’t think we’re where we are because other teams are better or because we’re not as good as we thought. It’s just been lack of execution and turnovers.
“We can still make a run for it.”
It will be an unlikely run. Only two of the Ticats four remaining games are at Ivor Wynne. They are 1-6 on the road, and play in both Calgary and Toronto.
Their record against the teams they play to finish the season is 1-6. Also, in the past three seasons, Hamilton has played 17 games in the blustery winds and chill of October and November. It has won four.