Many happy returns

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

The returns are in, and Keith Stokes is the clear-cut winner. Prior to the start of the 2004 CFL season, the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a punt return touchdown was on Oct. 20, 2001, when Charles Roberts ran one back 58 yards.

Stokes has done it three times this season.

Prior to 2004, the last time the Bombers had a kickoff return touchdown was on Oct. 10, 2000, when Albert Johnson III ran one back 96 yards.

Stokes has done it once this season.

SLOW START

After a slow start to his third CFL season, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound spitfire from New Jersey, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Montreal Alouettes, doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

"I've enjoyed it, but there's still more to come," the 25-year-old said yesterday. "We still got five more games left."

If he can keep it up, he might even quell the doubters.

"I'm not shooting for numbers -- I'm shooting for success," said Stokes, who yesterday was named CFL special teams player of the week for the third time in 2004. "And more than success, I'm really shooting for consistency, to keep it going.

"They say the knock on me is cold weather. I'm just waiting for the cold weather to come and I keep performing."

The Bombers probably don't care right now that Stokes lost a pair of fumbles during Montreal's Grey Cup loss to Edmonton last November in Regina. Nor do they seem to mind that he lost another two prior to his 108-yard kickoff return touchdown on Saturday against the Toronto Argonauts that head coach Jim Daley said sparked the Bombers to a 44-34 win.

"The ability to find the crease, hit the seam and get upfield as consistent as he does is phenomenal," Daley said. "He's a special type returner who has great vision. Keith's strength, or one of his strengths, is his vision.

"He sees and understands blocking schemes and studies blocking schemes, as far as the returns and where to cut, more than any guy I've seen."

You know Stokes will be studying hard this week. He will make his first return to Montreal's Molson Stadium on Saturday night when the Bombers (6-7) pay visit the Alouettes (11-1).

"It's going to be great," Stokes said. "I know it's going to feel weird going back there and seeing how the fans are going to treat me. They're used to cheering for me and now they're cheering against me."

Approximately 10 to 15 members of Stokes' family, including his parents Charles and Sarah Hall, will make the trip up from New Jersey to watch the game.

"So I really gotta perform," said Stokes, who again will be part of Winnipeg's offensive package. "Plus, that day we play is my mom's birthday, so I gotta have a big game.

"I can't have them come and I don't perform. Especially my nephews -- they'll talk bad about me. I'll see what I can do."

He doesn't need to show the Alouettes anything, as he returned a punt 83 yards for a score in a home loss to Montreal on Aug. 26. Stokes even tried to drop the ball at the feet of Als head coach Don Matthews that night, but an official stopped him from getting to their sideline.

"I'm not going out there to prove nothing against them," Stokes said. "I'm just going out there to get our team good field position on special teams and to move the ball on offence.

"I don't want to put no gas to no fire."


Videos

Photos