Building on adversity

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Mention his name around town and some may respond, 'Yeah, I've heard that one somewhere.'

Travis Ortega first landed in Winnipeg back in 2003 and it was suggested then that he was a can't-miss recruit. But it is now 2006 and he is still trying to make it.

Mind you, Ortega spent the entire 2005 season rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle, suffered just when he was starting to strut his stuff. Now he has to prove himself at Blue Bombers training camp all over again.

"It was really hard, especially after the year before having to wait my turn," Ortega admitted. "Then last year, I felt like I was progressing more, having a good training camp, then the injury. That was another setback but that was just part of life. You've just got to work hard and get back out and try again, and here I am."

But he almost felt like a phantom around a losing football club he was unable to help last year.

"Sure, when you're injured, you're not really involved in what the team's doing as much and you can't do anything, so you don't really want to be around," said the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Rice product. "So, it made me concentrate more on my rehab and getting back as quickly as possible to where I was when I left off."

REFLECTION

But the time off also included a lot of reflective moments.

"It just gave me some time to sit back and reflect," said Ortega, 29. "I mean, I love playing football, but it gave me some time to appreciate it even more and wanting to get back and being with the guys and really wanting to get on the field and play."

But Ortega knows that this is likely his last chance to prove himself as a pro football player.

"I always look it at it as my last chance," said Ortega, who attended Dallas Cowboys training camp in 2002. "My first year was my last chance to make it until now so, I come out on the field everyday like nothing's guaranteed. I play hard.

"It's been frustrating, it's been very frustrating. It just makes you more determined. It can do two things to you. It can make you quit or it can make you even stronger. So, I felt it made me stronger."

But Ortega faces some stiff competition from the likes of Donny Green, Robert Grant, Neil McKinlay and Ron Ockimey.

"Travis is competing," said head coach Doug Berry. "We don't have anybody who has that WIL linebacker locked down right now. We've got a lot of guys competing over there and nobody has jumped out bad and nobody has jumped out positive so, that's just an ongoing thing at that position."

But that competition is a good thing, Ortega suggested.

"There's a lot of good guys out here who are competing and that just brings out the best in everybody," he said. "So basically, all you can control is what you want to control and the rest is up to whomever.

"I'm improving every day, I feel like I am. Sitting out like that you've got to knock the rust off quick and I've just got to cut down on mistakes and improve every day."


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