Here’s a life-in-the-CFL moment.
The league’s reigning Outstanding Player and top Canadian was forced to leave the first game of the season with a concussion. One month later, another big hit forces one of the most durable stars in Calgary’s history to the sidelines.
There are plenty of twists to this saga for the Calgary Stampeders. On June 28, running back Jon Cornish was knocked out of the game against Montreal and has yet to return to action. His substitute was fellow Canadian Matt Walter. After a couple of starts, Walter was sent to the sidelines against Edmonton with a suspected concussion as well.
Now things become tricky. In Edmonton, the Stampeders moved international player Jock Sanders to the running back position to fill the spot. To accommodate Sanders on the field, the Stampeders had to sit another international, while elevating a Canadian to fulfill the league’s mandated ratio. This resulted in the team giving extra time to Anthony Parker, while Nik Lewis became inactive for the bulk of the game. A seat on the sidelines cost Lewis his 166-game pass-catching streak.
This week, that ratio has cost him a spot on the roster. The Stampeders have activated practice roster player and international running back, Martel Mallett. While Mallett plays, Lewis will sit to maintain the balance.
“I understand the situation,” said the 2004 Canadian Football League Rookie of the Year. “It’s not like it’s because of my play or because of anything else. You know what it is, it’s the ratio.”
Lewis is disappointed, but somewhat philosophical about the turn of events that has sidelined him against the Lions. A few years ago, he may not have been as cool about this same situation.
“Not a chance,” smiled Lewis. ”But I was healthy. When I was healthy, it was a big difference.”
Lewis is working back from a broken ankle that he suffered last season in a game against the Lions. He also realizes he may need additional time to return to form.
While the ratio-juggling of the Stampeders works against Lewis, it certainly works in favour of Martel Mallett, who will play his first game in five years on Friday – ironically against his former BC team. Mallett left the Lions after 2009 to pursue National Football League opportunities. Upon his return to the Canadian Football League in 2012, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon at Tiger-Cats camp.
The injury sidelined him for all of 2012 and 2013, making this weekend’s action his first CFL game in five years.
Stamps GM and Coach John Hufnagel had no trouble placing Mallett in the starting backfield.
“He’s very comfortable with the offense and the system and he’s itching to play,” commented Hufnagel after a recent Stamps workout.
Mallett is clearly ready for the opportunity.
“I feel great. I think I have a good grasp on my offense,” noted Mallett. Unfortunately a couple of guys went down. You know it’s part of the business and I’m ready to step up to the challenge.”
It is a challenge thrown at him after a complicated series of events. He will no doubt attempt to make the most of it on Friday night against the Lions.
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.