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When he was seven years old, Hergy Mayala was part of a leap-of-faith relocation, moving with his mom, Gilberte, and four older siblings from his birthplace in the Central African nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Montreal, Que.
“Yes, a big culture shock,’’ Mayala confessed from the UConn campus, where he’s winding up a communications degree.
“I sure wasn’t ready for the cold.
“But the more time I spent in Montreal, the more I got to like it.”
Growing up on the West Island section of Canadiens-mad Montreal, he gave hockey a pass (“I skated a couple of times”), taking a shine to football in general and Alouettes’ super-slotback S.J. Green in particular.
“When I was younger,’’ recalled Mayala, “watching football, he was THE guy everybody was talking about. I remember him, vividly.
“He was a big name. So watching him was a big thing.”
Years later, the 33-year-old Green remains, of course, pretty much still ‘the’ guy, and a big thing – seniors division now – and these days plies his trade in Toronto adorned in Double Blue.
“Oh, really?’’ Mayala said. “That’s impressive.”
The Argos, by the way, pay a visit to McMahon in Week 6, on July 18.
At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, the angular Mayala was the first selection, eighth overall, by the Stampeders in Thursday’s CFL Draft.
What caught Calgary GM John Hufnagel’s attention is the fact that this is not some tiptoe-through-the-tulips type pass-catcher.
“We project him as an inside receiver,’’ said Hufnagel following the selection. “He’s a good route runner, strong hands, good strength. He’ll help us out on special teams, as well.
“Receiver is one of the positions we had pegged early and he was still on the board.
“First of all, he has great character. But he’ll also mix it up, get his nose bloody blocking, which we demand from our receivers.
“We do have a lot of Canadian receivers I’m very confident can go out and make plays. He’ll join that group and competition decides who plays the games.”
While confessing he hasn’t kept in intimate contact with all things CFL since moving – “I know Calgary won (the Grey Cup) last year but I didn’t get to see the game” – Mayala sounded absolutely tickled to be heading back north in a couple weeks time.
“They came to my pro day and I had a great talk with them,’’ he said. “I’m just excited, super excited, about any opportunity I get.
“Just enjoying the moment right now.”
And that reputation of savouring the physical side of the game?
“Well, football is a contact sport,’’ he reckoned. “So I don’t shy away from it. I have a competitive nature. I’ll do whatever it takes for the team. Because at the end of the day it’s about wins, not numbers.”
In four seasons as a mainstay for the Huskies, Mayala produced 114 catches for 1,352 yards and 12 TDs, 83 catches and 976 yards over his his final two years excelling at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
Stamps’ scout/football operations coordinator Kyle Carson is the man who put Mayala very much on receivers coach Pete Constanza’s radar.
“When the draft came out and they started mentioning guys to look at for the coaches, by position, Kyle said: ‘Hey, Pete, you’ve gotta check out Mayala. I think he’s got something special’,’’ recalled Costanza. “So I do my normal due diligence, watched three games, picked their best three, and he did all the little things that catch your attention – he’s in there blocking, a hard runner-after-the-catch guy.
“And real good body control. He reminded me a little bit of (Jeremaine) Copeland, how Cope could contort himself and make that one-handed catch.
“Hergy has that ability.
“He’s a big-body receiver, very much how Juwan (Brescacin) is. When you look at what we ask our Canadians to do and the way they play the position, the film from UConn on Hergy is very good.
“He’s fast, explosive, a big kid. You can’t teach that size and that tenacity. Just talked to him on the phone. He’s thanking me for believing in him.
“He’s just ready to come up here and go to work.”