Centre of attention

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

In a weird way, a small part of Obby Khan is happy his head coach has called him out.

That's because it means he is officially back. There are no more excuses. No more breaks just because he had his large intestine surgically removed and lost 100 pounds.

His battle with colitis is over.

Now it's time to fight to keep his starting job.

"I'm not being babied through anymore," the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting centre said yesterday. "Coaches expect me to play better, which is a good thing. It lights a fire under my (butt). It makes me take note that they're watching and I gotta play better. Bottom line.

"I don't think it's the end of my career. I don't think I can't play anymore. I don't think the coaches think that either. They just want me to play better. That's a good thing."

Khan made only eight starts over the past two seasons thanks to not only the colitis, but knee and triceps surgeries as well. A month before Khan had his large intestine removed in January 2008, his dad died of liver cancer.

This past off-season, his mom, Rehana, was also diagnosed with liver cancer. Luckily it was caught early, and she had a liver transplant operation two weeks before training camp started.

"So needless to say my mind was a little preoccupied," Khan said. "But thank God it went well. We had wonderful doctors in Toronto. She's doing great.

"I talk to her every day. The doctors say she's doing better than they could have ever anticipated."

You'd almost expect, considering everything that has happened to him in the last 24 months, that Khan is simply exhaling.

Perhaps he's subconsciously realizing that football isn't life and is therefore making his days count instead of counting the days.

The 28-year-old Ottawa native sort of agrees with that theory, but he also points out that he loves football.

"My life is just focusing on football right now, which is what I've wanted to do for years and haven't been able to do," said Winnipeg's offensive lineman of the year in 2006.

"Right now things are finally starting to look on the up and up. I just gotta play better, and it's happily ever after if I play better."

Head coach Mike Kelly, who wants better play out of both Khan and right guard Kelly Bates, believes Khan is still dealing with the rust of hardly playing at all the past two seasons.

"There's still a little bit of rust on me, of course, but I can't use that excuse anymore," said Khan, who had a handful of snaps in five games last season. "It is two years, but that excuse doesn't exist for me anymore.

"I'm physically back. I'm mentally back. I just gotta play better."

Reading between the lines, Khan sounds like he would have rather heard Kelly's concerns from the coach himself instead of through the media. He said he and Kelly haven't talked about his play at all this week.

"There's different ways of handling it. Maybe he could've talked to me personally, but that's neither here nor there," Khan said. "Getting it out in public, of course it makes me upset. I'm a man with pride, and I am a man.

"That being said, I'm a professional athlete, and if I can't take criticism then I should go home or I should get a job working in a cubicle."


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