Enemy in Bombers midst

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 PM ET

They say you can always go home again.

Brendon LaBatte does not necessarily agree with this theory.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman is the lone starter on the Blue and Gold who hails from that rectangular province located just to the west of Manitoba.

And all the losing to the Saskatchewan Roughriders he and his team have endured recently — Winnipeg is 0-4 against the Green and White since LaBatte joined the fold — is starting to wear on the poor guy.

Not only are the Riders king in Saskatchewan and have won five consecutive Labour Day Classics against the Bombers, but LaBatte’s hometown of Weyburn, in the southeastern part of the province, is battling for the right to be called Riderville.

It’s a competition the Riders are conducting in this, its 100th anniversary season. Cities and towns across the province were asked to prove which one “most proudly represents the Green and White,” and the winner will receive a boatload of prizes.

Weyburn is one of five finalists, along with Avonlea, Nipawin, Unity and Yorkton. The winning location will be announced during Sunday’s Labour Day Classic, so that means LaBatte might be there to see his hometown named Riderville!

Barf, says LaBatte.

“I was neutral growing up, but I’m not neutral anymore,” said LaBatte, who played football but didn’t watch it growing up. “We’re 0-4 against these guys. And it’s not like 0-4 with tight games. We’ve been on the bad end of some s--- kickings.

“Last year it forced me to move down to Arizona in the off-season. I can’t even go back there.”

Yes, LaBatte spent part of his off-season in Arizona training with some of the world’s top football players, but he still had to spend some time in wintry Weyburn.

“I go in there and everything’s green,” LaBatte said. “I just try to stay out of the public eye. I just live out at the farm like a little hermit.”

Perhaps the toughest member of the LaBatte family is Brendon’s mom, who has no problem showing her Bomber pride in the city that on Sunday could become known as Riderville.

“She’s a proud supporter,” LaBatte said. “She wears the Blue Bomber gear all around town. She’s got her coat on and everything. She’s got some guts out there.”

LaBatte’s intestinal fortitude will be tested on Sunday when he makes his first start at left tackle in a CFL contest. Injuries on the offensive line have forced LaBatte to move outside from his usual left guard position. His eyes lit up when asked Thursday about the move.

“It’s exciting. It’s a challenge, but I’m excited for it,” LaBatte said. “I’m an O-lineman, not just a guard, so you gotta be able to play anything.”

LaBatte might catch a bit of a break if Riders defensive end Brent Hawkins, who hasn’t practised the past two days due to injury, is unable to go on Sunday. The former NFLer leads Saskatchewan with two tackles for a loss and is tied for the team lead with three sacks.

“He’s good,” LaBatte said. “He’s got a good motor on him.”

LaBatte on Sunday has a chance to prove to his O-line coach at the University of Regina, Jerry Orban, that he actually can play tackle.

“When I went to college I lasted out at left tackle for about two days in training camp,” LaBatte said. “They were like, ‘No, you’re going inside. You’re a guard.’ Then it looked like I was never going to get to play outside.

“A lot of people probably don’t think I can do it, but I don’t really care. I feel like I can compete out there. It may not be pretty, but I’m going to battle them. I don’t know what I have to do, but I’ll be trying everything.”

Looking back, however, LaBatte believes Orban was right in his assessment at the time.

“He said, ‘Maybe you’re a little better suited for guard.’ But at 330 pounds,” LaBatte said with a laugh, “maybe I was.”


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