Milt still here in spirit

PAUL FRIESEN, SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 1:47 PM ET

It sits empty, probably will for a long time.

No fancy clothes hang in it, there are no pictures of the wife and kid -- no sign at all of the man who used to park himself in the northeast corner of the Blue Bomber locker-room.

If it weren't for the name plate, which still remains, rookies might wonder why the empty space.

"It's very different," receiver Derick Armstrong, who sits next to the space, was saying yesterday. "No one's going to be in it. I think it's going to be empty for years. Just his name tag. It should be that way."

The empty space on the field, that's another thing.

Everybody wants the slotback spot Milt Stegall vacated when he retired after last season.

On the field, that's the most immediate effect of Stegall's departure: competition. "Guys know there's an extra spot to get," Armstrong said. "And guys are working very hard to earn that spot and earn the respect of teammates."

Newcomers Adarius Bowman and Justin Surrency have stood out as players who might replace Stegall on the game-to-game roster.

Somebody, including returning vets Terrence Edwards and Romby Bryant, might even be able to match his output from the last few years, as No. 85 slowed down and was hampered by injuries.

Replacing his leadership won't be as easy.

"There's a lot of guys out here who can make the plays Milt made," Edwards said. "Not a lot of guys who had the respect in the locker-room that Milt had. When he speaks, you listen."

And when the team was down, Stegall would often pick them up. Not necessarily with a catch, either.

"Milt was always the kind of guy who would lighten the mood when people were getting tired, bodies aching from camp," Arjei Franklin, now the Bombers' longest-serving receiver, said. "You'd probably see him dancing in the locker-room or cracking some jokes. It's a little sad not to have him around."

Armstrong, an avid horseback rider, might be best suited to take the leadership reins.

"It's my job as the oldest guy to make sure our group is performing at a high level," he said. "I'm happy that I have that role. I let 'em know that on this field, you have to work hard. We've got to learn from each other, now. We used to learn from Milt."

Edwards put it this way: "We just don't have The Greatest around."

But Edwards predicts the CFL's all-time receiver and touchdown king might still be able to light a fire or two under his former teammates.

They just have to look at that locker for inspiration.

"It's empty, but his spirit is still there," Edwards said. "I still can see him over there messing with Arjei. I can see him bringing his food from home. We're going to try and bring some inspiration. When we're down at the half we'll go and huddle around his locker or something.

"We're still going to keep him around, because his spirit is still going to be here."

BLUE/GOLD GAME: An estimated 2,000 fans took in last night's intrasquad scrimmage, and they didn't have to wait long for fireworks: rookie Ramonce Taylor take the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

Taylor also looked good at running back.

Others who stood out included receiver Adarius Bowman, D-lineman Chase Ortiz and linebacker Jonathan Hefney, while kicker Alexis Serna nailed a 52-yard field goal on the last play.

As for the quarterbacks, all four played, but none managed a touchdown pass.

HASHMARKS: Centre Obby Khan (ankle) sat out the scrimmage, but shouldn't be out long... Look for the Bombers to announce the signing of Winnipeg-born O-lineman Lorne Plante shortly. Plante was on the B.C. practice roster last year.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm Simba. I was gone for a while, and now I'm back to see if we can get some water in the valley again. We'll run the hyenas out and start all over." -- head coach Mike Kelly, borrowing from The Lion King.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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