There’s still something very rural Saskatchewan about Brendon LaBatte. Always will be.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ star left guard, who hails from Weyburn, Sask., loves stock cars and wouldn’t look awkward with a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth. You are unlikely to ever witness him sipping a latte.
So the 23-year-old felt somewhat out of place when he enrolled in a world-renowned training centre in Phoenix during the off-season. LaBatte spent two months at Athletes’ Performance Arizona, which works with some of the world’s top athletes.
Minnesota Twins star Justin Morneau was there, as were future NFL draft picks Gerald McCoy and Golden Tate. Even professional golfers were enrolled, trying to improve their games.
“It was a real eye opener,” LaBatte said Wednesday. “There were tons of guys down there from every sport. It was real interesting.”
The experience was nothing like LaBatte has ever experienced before, as the training centre covers every angle of an athlete’s life. They gave him a thorough physical that LaBatte said “found so much wrong” and led to all kinds of rehab and physiotherapy. They taught him about nutrition and cooked all of his meals. They made him do more cardio than he had ever done in his life.
“It was a real good experience to kind of see the science behind it,” LaBatte said.
But it was all brand new to the kid from rural Saskatchewan. “From the neck down they do all the thinking and everything for you. It was nice, but in the same sense you kind of get the feeling you’re a lab rat. There’s something about training in those fancy gyms where it’s not very Rocky Balboa-esque, I guess.
“(In Saskatchewan) we always had the gym underneath the pool where it smelled like chlorine. It was kind of dark and grungy. But down there it was top-notch.”
The 6-foot-4, 308-pound guard not only aspired to learn more about getting his body in tip-top condition, but he wanted to rub shoulders with NCAA stars like McCoy and Tate, who were first-round NFL draft picks in April, and see how they went about their business.
LaBatte, who was Winnipeg’s top offensive lineman last season, has never hidden the fact that he would like to give the NFL a shot, and he will be eligible to do so at the end of this season through the CFL’s option-year window.
“There’s a lot of things that could happen between now and then,” LaBatte said, trying to tone down the NFL talk a bit. “Obviously I want to take pride in the work I do out on the field, and if teams want to look and watch the game film, I want to give them the best game film that I possibly can.”
LaBatte, as it is with the other returning members of the Bomber offence, likes the look of Paul LaPolice’s playbook.
“There’s no need now to really beat a dead horse anymore. We’ve moved on to bigger and better things,” LaBatte said, referring to the struggles of 2009. “The way this camp’s been going, we’ve got more plays now than we probably ran for the better part of the first half of last season.”