There’s nothing quite like rookie camp, some 40 Winnipeg Blue Bomber hopefuls all convinced they can make the team, become a CFL all-star and win a Grey Cup — all in the next six months.
Never mind that 90% of them will get a plane ticket home by the time the games begin for real.
Right now, the sky never looked bluer, the turf never greener.
“The city’s wonderful,” linebacker Chad Nkang, a product of Hyattsville, Md., was saying Wednesday. “The team is great. Great players that I’ve met the last two days. My impression is it’s an amazing place to be. Beautiful weather, beautiful game. Just ready to get started.”
Asked for his first impression, receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris even heaped praise on the old girl they were practising in, not realizing she’s just two years from a date with the wrecking ball.
“I like the stadium. The stadium looks great,” Jeffers-Harris, who came here by way of Lawrenceville, Ga., said. “Nice and colourful.”
Ah, the innocence of youth.
For most, the cold hard reality will set in soon enough.
But what makes rookie camp so intriguing, for coaches and fans alike — probably a couple hundred spectators took in Day 1 — is the thought of discovering a gem, catching a glimpse of a future star.
The next Charles Roberts, or Milt Stegall, perhaps.
OK, so those only come around so often.
The Bombers would probably settle for the next Jonathan Hefney.
Hefney burst onto the scene out of this same rookie camp a year ago, eventually earning a CFL all-star nod, the East nomination as the rookie of the year and a shot at the NFL.
If you’re looking for candidates to be the next Hefney, Nkang and Jeffers-Harris aren’t a bad place to start.
Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007, Nkang actually played in The League that season, setting a team record with 30 special teams tackles.
One year and a shoulder injury later, he was out of work.
It took another year before he got another shot.
What happens to the mind of a 25-year-old that’s wired to play football, only to have it taken away?
It keeps going.
Asked about the last time he played: “I played yesterday, I played the day before that,” Nkang said. “Mental reps.
“I knew if I kept working hard and was prepared when an opportunity comes, that I would do great. I wasn’t too worried about not getting an opportunity again.”
Jeffers-Harris saw his football career go off the rails in college.
After a terrific sophomore season at the University of Connecticut in ’07, he transferred to Vanderbilt, sitting out a year under transfer rules, then becoming academically ineligible.
Earlier this year, he decided to go pro — at 21 years of age. But it was too late to register for the NFL draft.
Enter the Bombers, who worked him out twice and couldn’t believe the guy’s skill set.
Wearing No. 14 at rookie camp, Jeffers-Harris ended his first day with a leaping, twisting catch that made you understand GM Joe Mack’s enthusiasm about him.
The kid is just hoping he comes down with a job.
“I’m guessing it’s pretty wide open, because the new coaching staff, they don’t have no real alliance to last year’s team,” Jeffers-Harris said. “I know there’s some veterans that have experience. Dealing with that is probably the question.”
That’s a question for the weekend, and main training camp.
Right now, it’s just him and a few dozen other wide-eyed, bushy-tailed twenty-somethings.
Playing on a perfect day, in a perfect city, in the nicest stadium on earth.
Contact Paul at email@example.com or 632-2788.