Ready to roll the dice

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

They are salesmen, substitute teachers, maybe even aspiring sports reporters. But what they really want to be are football players.

Tonight, they get a chance to prove they can do the job.

Among all the grizzled, CFL vets who'll take a turn or two in tonight's Blue Bomber pre-season game against Hamilton are a bunch of players we've barely heard of, hoping to parlay 15 minutes of playing time into a pro career.

It's the most brutal job interview in sports, played out before some 25,000 curious onlookers, with a razor-thin line between a weekly paycheque in a glamorous job and a lonely trip back home.

"It's the biggest interview of my life," Darrius Battles, a 24-year-old defensive back from Mobile, Ala., was saying yesterday. "I'm just going to go out and do my job -- and leave them with only one answer: yes, we want this guy."

Battles, like the other rookie hopefuls we talked to yesterday, were reluctant to talk about the possibility of not making the team.

But the cold, hard reality is there, even on a hot Winnipeg day.

If Battles doesn't win a job in the secondary, he's likely headed back to Mobile and university classes. Unless another CFL team comes calling, of course.

"I won't give up, that's for sure," he said. "I will not give up."

Fellow CFL newbie John Eubanks is in the same boat, trying to win a defensive back spot.

"If I don't make it," Eubanks said. "I'll have to go back home as well."

Home for Eubanks is Cleveland, Miss., where he was working as a substitute teacher when the Bombers called.

This is Eubanks' third shot at pro football, the first two coming with the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Quarterback James Kilian has also given it a few tries since leaving the University of Tulsa four years ago.

Kansas City, which drafted him, Atlanta and Indianapolis all said thanks, but no thanks.

At 28, the product of Caldwell, Kan., who was selling office equipment before he came up, simply isn't ready for the real world.

"Why keep chasing it?" Kilian said, repeating the question. "You can only do it for a short period of time. A lot of other things I can do in life will always be there. But playing football is not one of them.

"Fortunately, I don't have a wife or kids. So when they presented the chance to come back and play, I was like, 'You know what, let's just go roll the dice.' If it doesn't work out, I'll land on my feet."

Cold, hard reality

One of four quarterbacks in camp, Kilian is expected to get the third quarter to get his feet wet in the Canadian game.

All the studying, all the drills in practice, everything that's been thrown at him these last two weeks, comes down to that 15 minutes.

Read the Ticats defence and toss a touchdown pass, he could be the Bombers' No. 2 man, behind Stefan LeFors.

Make a bad read and heave an interception: here's your plane ticket, buddy.

One of the top new receivers in practice has been Justin Surrency, a 25-year-old from St. Paul, Minn.

But Surrency knows it's another thing entirely to perform under the lights.

"This is a chance to prove that I can do this in a game, in a live situation," he said. "You've got the fans, you've got the media and you've got another opponent. They're trying to stop us from making the team, and we're trying to stop them from making it, by making big plays on them."

There's no time for sympathy for the rookie across from you, though.

"When you break it down, it is cruel," Surrency said. "But it's also competitive and it's fun."

And if it doesn't work out?

"I'd really like to be a sports reporter," Surrency said. "Something like what you guys are doing. But football is the No. 1 option right now."

Like we said, for the rookies, it's boom or bust, tonight.


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