CFL Pass

Stafford and Stamps meet for first time since Eskimos receiver's trade

Worlds are colliding for Kenny Stafford this week.

The seven-year Canadian Football League receiver was initially brought in by the Edmonton Eskimos ahead of the 2015 season in a trade for none other than fan-favourite Fred Stamps.

On Friday, Stafford and the rest of the Eskimos will see the beloved former receiver honoured in a halftime retirement ceremony during the season opener against the Montreal Aloeuttes (7 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED).

“That was a long time ago, man,” said Stafford, 29, who has already left and come back to the Eskimos after helping them win a Grey Cup his first season here. “Nothing’s easy in this world, especially in football, nothing’s ever given to you. You have to work for everything.

“I just happened to have an opportunity with the trade and I was going to make sure that I never regret the opportunity.”

Stafford emerged as the Eskimos’ deep threat that season, his third in the league, leading the Eskimos with nine touchdowns and playing a crucial part in the Grey Cup final when he convinced then-head coach Chris Jones to challenge a play that extended the winning touchdown drive.

And, in doing so, Stafford achieved about the only thing left off of Stamps’s incredible resume: Winning a championship.

“I was blessed, man,” Stafford recalled. “We had a great team, from quarterback play to receivers to the defence to the O-line, and we were a family.

“That’s what we’re preaching now, is becoming a family. That team was family, the kicker could hang out with the receivers, the long-snappers could be with the DBs. It was a true family.”

This time around, Stafford has a different place at the family table, coming in atop the Eskimos depth chart as the lone veteran American presence returning to the locker-room from last season.

And he didn’t need Stamps here to realize there is a bit of a role reversal at play now compared to his initial arrival.

“It’s funny how football works,” Stafford said. “When you come in, you’re the young guy who is being quiet and just playing football, instead of being the older guy who is setting the example, to leading by example, to speaking on things when they’re not right, to being able to voice your opinions.

“So, it’s a blessing, man, to be able to play football this long and I won’t take it for granted, for sure.”

Stafford is coming off the most productive season of his career, setting personal bests with 55 receptions for 781 yards.

And while he’s looking to take the next step this year with a rejigged Eskimos offence, he can certainly appreciate the life’s work Stamps has done with the organization.

“Over a nine-year career, just super consistent. Touchdowns, man. Deep ball corners and diagonals, he made his money off of that. Reliable, that’s what I remember,” Stafford said. “I don’t really know too much about him, when I first got in the league, my veterans who I considered my big brothers were like S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and all them, because I came over in the east coast.

“So I didn’t really know too much about Fred Stamps until I looked up his highlights and all that. Man, he was a hell of a player.”

During the Eskimos walk-through Thursday, where Stamps was back on the field catching balls while wearing civvies – albeit with a pair of green and gold gloves – the two had a chance to meet for the first time, after not having physically crossed paths previously.

“I actually just talked to Kenny for the first time and I think he’s a really good football player, man. I think his time will come for him to really step out and be that playmaker,” said Stamps, who is sporting short hair and a beard these days, with some distinguished salt in the pepper. “Because he has all the tools and all the abilities to do it.

“I was just telling him when I came in, I had to play behind Jason Tucker, and everybody knows that’s tough right there, you know, because he’s really a playmaker. Kenny, he’s a good guy and I think this year will be a good year for him. A big opportunity to really shine and help this team get to where the team needs to be.”


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge