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JONES: New players immersed in the 'Eskimo Way'

On Friday, fans will form their first impressions of the new array of talent involved the insane total of 53 players from last year’s Edmonton Eskimos team picture that did not return.

With the record turnover, combined with the home opener against a Montreal team that fired their coach on the same week as the first game, Friday may have the feel of another pre-season game. So expect a carryover on the first impressions thing to the following Friday, when Mike Reilly returns to Commonwealth Stadium as a B.C. Lion.

The thing about first impressions is that they go both ways. And with all the high profile new Eskimos who played with other CFL teams, it’s interesting to listen to them rave about their experience being here so far.

You tend to get blind to the incredible facilities the Eskimos have in Commonwealth Stadium and the way the organization is set up and to the scene in Edmonton itself. But when you have so many new players involved, it’s definitely a study to watch them immerse themselves.

And this season, after a rare year out of the playoffs, the Eskimos are examining every area of who they are and what they’ve been, and emphasizing it all with the hope of reinstituting Edmonton excellence everywhere.

So far, so good.

“I love it, man. This is incomparable to anything I’ve had before,” said DeVaris Daniel, formerly of the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, who played his college football at Notre Dame.

“It’s not just the facilities, which are awesome, but the people involved. To have all these resources and the community so open to this football team, it’s something special.”

Quarterback Trevor Harris played in last year’s Grey Cup in Commonwealth Stadium, admittedly housed for the week in the visitor dressing room.

“It’s amazing. Everything is first class. It’s second to none,” said the former Toronto Argo and Ottawa Redblacks quarterback who spent time in the NFL with Jacksonville and Buffalo.

Linebacker Don Unamba had previous CFL stops in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Montreal and Hamilton and spent time in St. Louis and Buffalo in the NFL.

“First of all, I’m really impressed with just learning about the organization and what it all stands for, learning about the Eskimos Way and all the history that surrounds you in the dressing room and everything. There’s a lot of history and great players you get to know about,” said Unamba.

“I’m impressed with the way they run things around here as a whole. I’m impressed with the GM and the coach and all the way down with what they’ve been doing to develop unity and to make us be like a family right now to start the season. Everybody is real close-knit around here. The facilities are extremely nice. It’s run real professional. I’m really enjoying being part of it all so far.”

Hamilton linebacking partner Larry Dean played 61 games in the NFL with Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. And he says he’s been blown away.

“It’s a rich tradition here and a lot of rich history. I’m still feeling my way around but it’s been a great first impression so far. The facilities are first class all the way and second to none that I’ve seen,” he said.

Receiver Greg Ellingson was a member of Tampa Bay and Jacksonville NFL teams before heading north to play in Hamilton and Ottawa.

“With me, the first impression was that they seem to know how to do things right. They take care of us. It’s a first-class organization. The whole complex here is the nicest one I’ve been in.”

Tevaun Smith, the receiver the Eskimos drafted in the first round in 2016, had NFL stops in Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Oakland before finally arriving this year to launch his CFL career.

“The first thing you notice is that they have a standard and the standard is real high. From my experience, this is an NFL-calibre facility with NFL-calibre training and in a couple places I’ve been I’d say it might even be better. Our locker room is better. The facility is really nice, the stadium is really nice and I hear good things about the fans.”

All of the above isn’t just your friendly local sports columnist putting on his interim Chamber of Commerce hat for a day. It’s an important part of what head coach Jason Maas decided to emphasize and nurture with the reload of his football team this year.

“We’ve emphasized culture and the great things about Edmonton. They see it about the organization from top to bottom, about the people here, the facilities and how they’re taken care of there. They’ve now experienced it. Weight rooms. Recovery. Equipment. Medical. Coaches. This year, everybody is all in.

“They see how they get treated with respect, dignity … the Eskimo Way, is what we call it. You’re treated well here. We want to get back to people just wanting to be part of it. I want to make it better.

“The only way you get better is by having better people. There’s a standard to uphold. It needs to get better than worse. I like that. This year we’ve just talked about it more and we’re going to continue to talk about it. I believe that chemistry helps you win ball games and championships.”