CALGARY — Pierre Lavertu has big shoes to fill on the Calgary Stampeders’ offensive line.
The 25-year-old from Quebec City takes over at centre for Brett Jones, who was the CFL’s offensive lineman of the year in 2014 and the league’s rookie of the year in 2013.
The Stampeders gave up the fewest sacks (26) and led the league in average rushing yards per game (143.9) last season.
Jones, from Weyburn, Sask., signed with the NFL’s New York Giants in the off-season. Lavertu intends to prove he can be the man in the middle for the Stampeders.
“I’m working hard to fill that spot the right way,” Lavertu said Tuesday on the second day of main camp. “I’m trying to not compare myself to Jones. I just want to reach that level of player. That’s what coaches are expecting.”
Stampeder head coach and general manager John Hufnagel swung a draft-day deal with the Ottawa Redblacks to get the first overall pick in the 2014 Canadian college draft.
Hufnagel used it to draft Lavertu, a three-time CIS all-Canadian and winner of three Vanier Cups with Laval University. Lavertu played centre for the Rouge et Or, but saw few game reps as Jones’s backup last season.
Lavertu got on the field playing other positions on the line, including a pair of starts at right guard. He was on the roster for Calgary’s wins in the West Division final and the Grey Cup.
“As a sixth lineman, you don’t get a lot of reps, but when I had to go in on the line because of an injury, that was good playing time,” he said. “Last year prepared me well. I played at guard and that was out of my comfort zone. I’m back at centre position. It’s easier for me.”
Centre has been called the choreographer of the offensive line because responsibilities include calling out blocking assignments and communicating pre-snap adjustments amid the noise and movement along the line of scrimmage. He’s got to outmuscle and outmanoeuvre the centre on the other side of the ball, lest he get mashed into his quarterback.
“(Pierre) has picked up where he’s left off as far as knowledge and that’s half the battle with the centre position, in getting all his teammates on the same page,” Hufnagel said.
Offensive line coach Pat DelMonaco believes Lavertu has the mental makeup and physical attributes to be a starting centre in the CFL.
“Pierre shows good anchorability,” the coach said. “We were pleased with his progression at the end of last season. We feel like he’ll continue to progress the right way this year.
“Any time you have anybody at Brett’s level to learn from, I think you’re going to benefit. I think Pierre is going to carve his own path.”
Lavertu went home in the off-season to train at Laval alongside former Rouge et Or linemen Karl Lavoie and Danny Groulx. Lavoie was drafted by the Stampeders this year and has joined Lavertu at camp, while Groulx is property of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Lavertu gained big-game experience at Laval, including the 2012 Vanier Cup played in front of 37,000 people at Rogers Centre in Toronto. Laval downed McMaster 37-14 for the title.
From his contributions to a championship in his rookie year to just knowing where the meeting and lunch rooms are now, Lavertu arrived at his second Stampeder training camp a more confident and comfortable player than he was at his first a year ago.
“I love being a professional football player. I’m in love with the sport,” Lavertu said.