Although they are still "futures," patience has paid off for a pair of Canadian prospects.
Receiver Blair Atkinson spent the entire 2006 seasons practising with the Blue Bombers but never got a chance to suit up once. Dominic Picard suited up for the odd Winnipeg game but was essentially limited to converts.
But Atkinson will make his CFL debut when the Bombers open the regular season against the Eskimos in Edmonton on Thursday. And Picard will start at centre.
"I came out last year, practised for the whole year and waited my turn," Atkinson said yesterday. "This is my turn and hopefully, I can make the most of it."
Although the former University of Manitoba Bison is now one of only two healthy Canadian receivers left, his status is the result of unexpectedly turning heads at training camp.
"I feel that if I hadn't had at least a decent training camp, I wouldn't be here right now," said the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Langley, B.C. native. "I'd be out somewhere else looking for a job. But I had a good training camp and I guess that's the result of it, you get some good playing time ...
"But I'm not out of the woods yet. We've got a bunch of Canadian receivers hurt still. But I can only go out and worry about my own status."
Atkinson, 26, will likely back up veteran Jamie Stoddard as the other non-import pass catchers -- O'Neil Wilson, Arjei Franklin and Adam Eckert -- remain in sick bay. But he has already been handed special teams duties.
"I don't think I'll be nervous," said Atkinson, who spent Sunday night getting congratulatory calls from his ex-Bison teammates. "I'll be anxious, though. I've been waiting to play a regular-season game for about a year now. I didn't get any action last year so, I'm anxious to get out there and make an impression to the rest of the league and to our team."
Meanwhile, Picard has made quite an impression on his team, getting the nod to replace Obby Khan (ill) as the starting centre.
"We groomed him for a year hoping he would turn into this in his second year of his development, and he has," said GM Brendan Taman. "He's had a really good camp and we're confident he can go in there and play fine."
Picard, 25, will also be barking out blocking assignments during the match.
"I'm really excited and it's going to be a great challenge," said the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Sainte-Foy, Que., native. "Last year was tough and this year, it's coming really early. I prepared myself during the off-season, watching tape, getting in the weight room, boxing, all that kind of stuff ... I'm more excited than nervous about the challenge. It's going to be good."
Bomber head coach Doug Berry has faith in the youngster, who was turned into a project last year.
"I'm an old O-line guy (coach) and I like to see those guys brought along gradually," he said. "Now that he's had a year under his belt and feels a lot more confident in his assignments, he can get out and have the opportunity to do the things a centre has to do. I'm happy with the way he's playing."