St. John gives edge to ex-Stangs

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

It's kind of like Poppa Bear and four Baby Bears.

While it's difficult to imagine four muscular ex-Mustang footballers as babies, there's not much doubt about Poppa -- the six-foot-four, 305-pound Jude St. John.

The Toronto Argonauts' 12-year veteran and Canadian Football League East Division all-star has been helping the rather large University of Western Ontario contingent through the Argos' training camp. And his counsel is appreciated.

The Argos' second-round draft pick Leron Mitchell along with Christian Heffernan, Jeff Keeping and Kris Aiken are benefiting from St. John's advice. Mitchell, Heffernan and St. John all are from London.

St. John, 33, certainly qualifies as a poppa away from football, too. The big offensive lineman is the father of five children under the age of eight.

"Having Jude and the Western guys just makes the transition into the family that much easier," Mitchell said between signing more autographs than ever in his life for youngsters brought in by the Argonauts as part of their anti-bullying campaign. His cornerback work has impressed coaches.

Mitchell was immediately struck by the speed of the pros. He knows a bit about speed, having competed at the University of Texas on a track and field scholarship after amassing a pile of medals in Ontario high school championships in everything from long jump to middle distance running.

"The mental aspect took a few days," said Mitchell, who is taking on 10-year veteran Dave Donaldson for a starting role. "You really have to be on your toes because of the speed."

Speed is something Heffernan has plenty of, but he's in tough for a wide receiver role immediately. The Argos have a raft of fine Canadian receivers in players such as Andre Talbot, Michael Palmer and Ian Forde.

The past couple of practices Heffernan has seen more balls thrown his way than anyone, so he's in their plans. It could be as a special teams player/backup receiver.

"Even if I'm only on the practice roster, I want to be part of it," the Aquinas grad said.

As for Poppa Bear St. John, he arrived at camp in top condition after a winter of workouts in London with Heffernan and Keeping.

The Argo team nominee for most outstanding lineman last season, St. John loves the game, but says it doesn't get any easier.

"Training camp is tough. Maybe having all these (ex-Mustangs) kids around will help," said the guy who knows a few things about kids. "It's still fun."

St. John relishes helping out the more recent Mustangs. He also helped himself in the off-season by losing more than 20 pounds.

"As you get older, you have to stay lighter because you don't move as well," he explained. "I'm at the point of my career, I'd rather get run over than run around."

On the other hand, he can impose a lot of experience on the enemy down in the trenches.

"The saying, 'Work smarter, not harder,' is often true for a veteran player," St. John said. "You figure out ways to do things better."

It's from a veteran's perspective, perhaps enhanced by his deep religious convictions, that St. John contributes even more to the Argo cause.

"We usually have about three Western guys here and to have five is really neat," he said. "I try to help where I can. I spoke to Leron back in London and was excited to see him here. He's a specimen. He's young and playing DB involves a learning curve, but he has definitely impressed the coaches."

Speaking of learning curves, St. John figures the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats are about to learn more about each other than they want to know.

"Counting two preseason games, we'll play them six times," he said. "There's enough rivalry as it is and this will just make it hotter."

Poppa Bear will be ready. So will some of the Baby Bears.


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