Camp horror stories

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Brendan Taman is a lot like Chicken Little this time of year, just waiting for the sky to fall.

That's the way it always is for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM on the eve of training camp, when young football players start showing up in a different country to play football on a field that looks more like a soccer pitch.

They were all gung-ho when they were signed a few months before, but sometimes things change when they actually arrive in the Manitoba capital.

Take Kurt Murphy, for instance. The highly regarded centre out of Ohio State was supposed to come in and provide "attitude" on the Bombers offensive line in 2001.

The key words there are "supposed to."

"He drove in, checked into the hotel, had his lunch, decided it wasn't for him, and he left," Taman said. "That was the year the O-lineman saga started. That was a good start to it, I'll say."

Hey, at least Murphy got to Winnipeg, as the changes of heart aren't restricted only to American rookies.

The bizarre case of Canadian veteran punter Duncan O'Mahony was the big story at the beginning of last year's camp. The former B.C. Lion and Calgary Stampeder was signed and sealed but not quite delivered when he failed to make his connecting flight at the Calgary airport.

O'Mahony wasn't heard from for more than 48 hours, prompting his parents to make a plea through the media for their son to contact someone. He finally called his parents three days after disappearing, and he didn't play in the league at all last season. He was, however, signed by the Stampeders earlier this year.

Stories like that bring out the pessimist in Taman, who almost expects something similar to happen every year. He will find out if his fears come true over the next few days, as rookie camp starts today at 10:30 a.m. at Canad Inns Stadium and main camp begins Sunday.

For those who do show up and strap on a helmet today at the rookie camp, head coach Doug Berry just wants them to get a feel for the bigger field and the Canadian game in general.

Berry won't start really putting them through their paces until Sunday.

"I want these guys to get advanced as possible mentally and not necessarily burn them out physically," Berry said, "so that when we go on Sunday they have a chance to go in and let their talents do their talking for them."

The rookies will have their work cut out for them in main camp, because they will be competing against a large group of returning players who have already had a year under Berry's systems.

"There's going to be some bicycle riding here," Berry said.

That doesn't mean the coach isn't fired up to get his second season as the big boss underway.

"I'm kind of anxious, yeah," Berry said.

"It should be for everybody this time of year. You think you've got your ducks lined up. Now let's see."

ROOKIE WATCH

Five players to watch at Bombers rookie camp:

1. Justin Holland, QB

The former Colorado State star has good size (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) and a decent arm going for him in the quest to snag one of the two backup pivot spots.

2. Tommy Manus, WR

It will take quite a performance for a rookie import receiver to crack the starting lineup, but the 25-year-old is a big target (6-foot-4, 222 pounds) and moves well.

3. Corey Jenkins, LB

It's expected the 1995 first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox will get looks at both the weak- and strong-side spots on either side of Barrin Simpson.

4. Antoine Bagwell, RB

This slick tailback who played NCAA Div. II ball also has nice hands out of the backfield. He was recruited to play at the University of Nebraska twice.

5. Chris Beckman, P

The former Tulane University standout will try to do what two imports -- Brian Claybourn and Sam Paulescu -- failed to do last year: unseat Troy Westwood as the team's punter.


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