Refuge in football

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

With so much swirling around him, David Azzi often turns to the football field as a place for refuge.

The gridiron, in ways only Azzi can relate, provides solace and a much needed escape from the real life tumult that has engulfed the young man for the past several months.

Considering the road Azzi has travelled, a stop tomorrow in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders represents a significant moment in the burgeoning receiver's career with the Argos.

Azzi is expected to be used as the fifth receiver in the Argos' aerial attack, a key player on a team hoping to end a troublesome three-game losing streak.

When Azzi joined the Argos this past off-season, he entered camp with a heavy heart following the death of his father, Naoum, whose courageous battle against cancer ended.

While in camp, Azzi tore his hamstring and became an unwitting spectator, unable to help his new team.

More recently, the third-year pro has been forced to watch and read about the horrors in Lebanon, Azzi's place of birth.

As early as late Wednesday, Azzi's cousin was able to escape and she arrived safely at Pearson Airport.

Family is the essence of Azzi, who draws strength from his father's refusal to succumb meekly to such a deadly disease.

"It's kind of weird looking up in the stands and not seeing my dad," Azzi, 25, said. "But I know he's there.

"Football is an escape for me. I can wake up in the morning knowing my dad is watching over me."

Azzi's father attended each and every game.

"He was my biggest fan," Azzi said. "He didn't know much about football, but he made it a point of trying to understand everything about the game."

The senior Azzi was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago, beat it and had a lung removed. Early last summer, doctors found cancer in his brain.

"When it (cancer) hits close to home, you begin to realize how widespread it is," Azzi, who is actively involved in cancer research charities, said. "It's an ugly disease."

His father's plight served to strengthen Azzi's faith and the bond only a father and son can share.

"It's hard to describe and it's hard to talk to people about," Azzi said. "I really do feel a presence. I'd get home on certain days when my dad was around and I wanted to tell him everything about my life, but obviously I couldn't.

"Now, I know that he knows everything about my life."

That is why Azzi relishes his chance with the Argos.

Azzi got his feet wet two weeks ago against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when he made his long-awaited debut in Double Blue. Against the Roughriders, he'll be taking the plunge.

"It just feels great," Azzi, who was taken third overall by the hometown Ottawa Renegades in 2004, said. "Any time coaches put confidence in you, telling you that you're going to be the guy, it's a great feeling."

Even greater would be to leave Regina with a win.

"Every game for us is a must-win," Azzi said. "We have to keep our confidence and morale high."


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