Rookie an oil rig Rocky

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Somewhere near an Alberta oil rig, a group of roughnecks are sitting around a fire, having a cigarette and swapping lines about the flaky, would-be football player they used to work with.

Heck, they might even be pulling for the guy, which would give them something in common with the folks in Yorkton, Sask.

That's the home town of Jordan Matechuk, who's trying to crack the lineup of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

At 21, Matechuk is the youngest player in training camp, trying to make the improbable leap straight from junior football to the pros.

On paper, the guy doesn't stand a chance. I mean, how do you stack five years of high school football in Saskatchewan -- he made it as a Grade 8 student -- plus two years of Canadian junior up against years of college and pro experience?

With hard work, that's how.

"I want it," Matechuk was saying yesterday. "I'm hungry. I'm real hungry. I always wanted to play football. I wanted to go as far as I can go with it."

DECK OF CARDS

So when he landed a job on an oil rig last winter, Matechuk took his weighted football with him. And a deck of cards.

That's all it took to convert the rig into his own personal gym.

The four-pound football, Matechuk would repeatedly toss up in the air while lying in bed, working the muscles he uses as a long snapper.

And the cards?

"The guys would all be smokin' by the fire," Matechuk began. "I'd kind of hide away from everybody. I'd go through my deck of cards. If I pull a seven, I'll do seven pushups. A queen, I'll do 12. I'll go through the whole deck. It's like 370-some. I'd try to go through it once or twice a day."

Actually, it's 364. But who's counting.

Matechuk's workouts weren't limited to breaks in his day. The guy wouldn't let a spare minute go by without finding some form of exercise on the rig.

"I'd walk around, there'd be a bar hanging, and I'd be doin' chin-ups," he said. "Walking around doin' pushups. It was almost like Rocky out there, running around. The guys are all giving me heck because I'm not workin', I'm just workin' out at work."

Matechuk's fellow roughnecks got so put off, they stole his football. He eventually got it back, and has since graduated to a six-pounder.

"You just try to strengthen all your muscles," he said. "The core. It's all about the follow-through. Grip-strength."

The Bombers first spotted Matechuk at a workout organized by U of M Bisons coach Brian Dobie in March. Their jaws hit the ground almost as fast as his snaps reached the punter.

BYE-BYE BLOCKED PUNTS

"Wow," assistant coach Bob Dyce recalled. "I've just never seen anything like it."

The benchmark time Dyce uses for long snappers is between .7 and .72 seconds. Matechuk snapped the ball 25 times, was below .7 seconds every time and even hit .59 seconds, once.

If this guy makes the team, say good-bye to blocked punts.

But Matechuk has this burning desire to see the field from an angle other than upside down and between his legs.

A middle linebacker with the Winnipeg Rifles, he's taking reps there, too, which explains the look on his face all day.

"Anytime you look at him, he's got a smile from ear-to-ear," head coach Doug Berry said. "I mean, he's just happy to be out here. He's out there competing and just loving every second of it."

To make this team, Berry says Matechuk has to be a "special teams demon" in the pre-season. He's already passed Berry's attitude test.

"You'd love him as a quarterback," the coach said. "He's not intimidated. You're not going to shake him up."

A quarterback, eh?

Don't say that too loud -- the guy's liable to start throwing weighted footballs at Milt Stegall.


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