Canuck RB rare sighting

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

We all know about the phenomenon of the Canadian quarterback, an animal that appears to have become extinct in the Great White North.

There is a related species that's also been on the CFL endangered list.

Last year it crawled out from under a rock to make regular appearances in Hamilton. There are also rumours of a sighting here at Blue Bomber training camp.

I'm talking about the Canadian ball carrier.

Not to be confused with the slow-footed fullback, which belongs to the same family, the ball carrier is much more colourful and pleasing to the eye.

Where you often need binoculars to appreciate the slow-footed fullback, the Canadian running back doesn't mind taking centre stage.

But not since Sean Millington was in his prime a decade ago has there been any kind of sustained sighting.

That appears to be changing with Jesse Lumsden in Hamilton.

Some day, probably not this year or the one after that -- maybe as long as Charles Roberts is around -- the Bombers' Daryl Stephenson would like to make it a trend, rather than a freak of nature.

"I'd hope so," Stephenson said. "It's what I've been doing since six years old. The fact I've gotten a lot bigger has swayed people to thinking I might be a fullback. But I can contribute in some ways to the running game out here. And I'd love to do that."

Scoff all you like.

Then take a look at Stephenson's college highlight video on the web.

From his very first carry at the University of Windsor (a 49-yard touchdown run), Stephenson dominated:

- A rookie record of 1,192 yards in 2004.

- The country's leading rusher in '05 (1,306 yards) and '06 (1,140).

- The Hec Crighton Trophy winner in '06.

- The first player to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Only last year, because of injuries, did Stephenson stumble -- and he still rang up 764 yards, passing Lumsden to finish his college career third on the all-time list.

"Everyone's always compared me to Lumsden," Stephenson said. "I'm not much of his style running. I'm more of a juker. But I think I can contribute like that."

He compares himself more to Eric Lapointe, the former Montreal speedster who never quite made it as a full-time back.

"It's hard seeing something like that," Stephenson said. "He didn't get the shot that he wanted. But he still played football for a number of years. And just to do that would be awesome. Wherever I can help."

The odds are against him becoming a starter.

Just like the Canadian quarterback, the homegrown runner has to beat out Americans who've played against better competition from Pop Warner, on up.

And you have to make an impression on American coaches who have a built-in bias.

Bomber offensive co-ordinator Kit Cartwright describes Stephenson as "a 'tweener, between fullback and tailback."

Head coach Doug Berry sees him as a potential short-yardage specialist.

"He might be a first-and-goal back at the three," Berry said. "He's a big guy. I like him."

Perhaps knowing he needs to make the team as a role player, Stephenson, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, has put on at least 10 pounds since college, when he ran away from everybody.

Because of the injuries, he fell to the third round of April's draft.

"I'm better than the running back I was two years ago, when I had all that hype around me," he said. "I'm out to prove that. Show some stuff they might not have thought I had."

And maybe, eventually, show that rumours of the Canadian running back's demise have been greatly exaggerated.


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