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February 20, 2018

Derek Dennis back in his comfort zone

Dave Chidley/CFL.ca

Post-up, all you Calgary-based NY Knicks fans.

Derek Dennis,’’ teases Stampeders’ offensive-line coach Pat DelMonaco, “is a huge Knicks’ fan. Whenever they’d play, he’d show up at the stadium decked out in blue and orange.

“He looked like the biggest blueberry you’d ever hope to see in your life. I mean, he was just so big, so round and so … blue.

“So we started calling him Blueberry.”

Well, this may still be winter but Blueberry is back in season in Southern Alberta.

“It was an adjustment,’’ says Dennis, who Friday returned to the Stampeders fold after emigrating to Saskatchewan to join the rival Roughriders exactly a year and a day ago.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t miss being in Calgary, around the people in that organization and the players in that locker-room.

“I did.

“I missed the atmosphere. We had fun moments in Sask, some good times, but it just didn’t feel the same.

“I spent time with the Patriots and I always compare my two years in Calgary with my time in New England. You’ve got blue-chip guys in a set culture who come in every day and work hard, but they have fun, enjoy being around each other.

“Running after the money, I put myself in a bad situation.  Now I’m back in a situation where I know people want me, care about me, and I’ll be successful.

Stampeders OL Derek Dennis

“Just a great environment to be a part of.”

Among the most sought-after free agents of 2017, coming off a Most Outstanding Lineman season out McMahon Stadium-way, Dennis left the safety of the Calgary cocoon for a big-ticket three-year contract.

On Tuesday, the day free agency opened, citing salary-cap concerns the Riders outright released someone they seemed committed to constructing their offensive line around.

With most organizational game-planning complete and salary-cap dollars already accounted for, a tricky time to be cut loose, for sure. But as things turned out, the dominoes could not have fallen more perfectly.

As a fashion statement, Dennis freely admits now, green and white never fit him as form-fittingly as red and white had.

“It was an odd feeling,” he’s saying from his off-season home in Phoenix, “because Calgary was all I really knew in the CFL.

“Last year, I thought I’d make a decision for my family – my little boy (Kayson) is four-months old now – and make a little more money than I thought I could in Calgary.

“Running after the money, I put myself in a bad situation.

“Now I’m back in a situation where I know people want me, care about me, and I’ll be successful.

“This is storybook.

“I just want to play football again and live up to the name I created for myself before I left for Sask.”
Exacerbating the adjustment to an unfamiliar environment at New Mosaic Field, the 6-foot, 341-lb. product of Temple University soon found himself shuffled inside from his normal left-tackle position to guard.

“He brings a light-heartedness to the job but at the same time he needs to bring the competitiveness, too,’’ says DelMonaco.

“It’s tremendous to have him back. He’s a guy that we know. He had a rough year last year and there are a lot of reasons for that. But we’re excited to work together again.

“It’s going to bring great competition to the position and that’s what you’re looking for.”

With Dan Federkeil retiring, there’s a tackle spot open.

What matter more to Dennis than positional details, however, are the atmosphere, the camaraderie of old, the familiarity of success.

“Coming from a very cultured environment that was run a certain way … I always thought I was a versatile person, able to adjust to different situations.

“But sometimes personalities just don’t mesh. That simple. Not every football player can play for every football coach.

“Like I’ve told people, I have no ill will towards anybody (in Regina). That’s part of the business. It happens. You go through it from Pop Warner to the professional level.

“What I found out is that it’s not just about the money. It’s about being somewhere where you’re being put in a position to be successful, where you feel comfortable and where you’re happy.”

For the time being, Dennis is working out in the desert and dealing with the early, eye-opening stages of fatherhood.

Training camp, it’s clear, can’t come soon enough though.

Oh, to be back in that familiar McMahon Stadium atmosphere, on the correct sideline, once again.

Almost as if he’d never been away.

“It’s like when you leave home for the first time to go to college,’’ he muses. “You find yourself away, in a different environment. You have to adjust to new and different ways.

“Then you get the chance to come home again, after realizing how much you missed it, how much you maybe took it for granted in some ways. You come back remembering who you are again and what you’re all about.

“That’s what this feels like for me.

“Like coming home again.”