CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders take pride in their culture of “plug-in-and-play”. When injury forces a player from the lineup, the replacement is expected to excel and help the team win.
The Stampeders look to go 5-0 to start a season for the first time since 1995 when the B.C. Lions (2-3) come to town Friday.
And with Calgary’s star running back Jon Cornish and backup tailback Matt Walter out with concussion symptoms, it appears former CFL rookie of the year Martell Mallett will play in his first football game since 2009.
The 28-year-old from Pine Bluff, Ark., rushed for 1,240 yards for the Lions in 2009, including a 136-yard performance in a game against the Stampeders, to earn that rookie award.
Mallett then headed to the NFL where he got looks on practice rosters in Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York, but no games.
The six-foot, 208-pound running back returned to Canada in 2012 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. A torn Achilles tendon suffered in training camp wiped out the season and the Tiger-Cats released him prior to training camp the following year.
Signed as a free agent in January, Mallett came off Calgary’s practise roster this week for some first-team reps.
The Stampeders picked up running back Hugh Charles as insurance Monday following his release from the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Mallett has been with the Stampeders since training camp and is more familiar with Calgary’s offensive schemes.
“I look at it as a blessing,” Mallett said Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I played football. I’ve been here, learning the playbook, learning the system and it just came down to my time to go. That’s why I’m here, for depth.”
Cornish, the CFL’s most valuable player last season and rushing leader the past two, went on the six-game injured list last week still suffering the effects of getting knocked out in the season opener.
In his absence, regular returner Jock Sanders led Calgary in rushing yards with 86 on 16 carries in last Thursday’s 26-22 win over Edmonton. Walters left that game in the first quarter.
Mallett has a degree in agriculture business from Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His post-football ambition is to work for U.S. Fish and Wildlife as a special agent chasing down poachers.
“I grew up in a country town. I love hunting and I love fishing, but I hate it when people break the rules,” he said.
Mallett’s brother Michael was shot and killed in their home town in 2012 while Mallett was recovering from his Achilles surgery. Michael is one reason Mallett isn’t done with football and moving onto to his next career.
“If my brother was here, he would want me to continue to play football,” Mallett said. “With that in consideration and my youth, I just feel like I can do it. I have a lot of miles left on me. I haven’t played a whole lot.”
The Stampeders went 14-4 in 2013 with a three-man rotation at starting quarterback and receivers constantly in and out of the lineup.
“That’s been in our biggest thing the last couple of years. Guys plug in and play,” defensive back Keon Raymond said. “We’ve probably been one of the most injury-prone teams over the last couple years I’ve been here, but we haven’t missed a beat.
One of Calgary’s three starting quarterbacks last season returns to McMahon Stadium on Friday in a Lions uniform. Kevin Glenn went 10-3 for the Stampeders before he was taken in the expansion draft by the Ottawa Redblacks and subsequently traded to the Lions.
Charles has taken reps and worked with the return team in two practices since his arrival in Calgary. He’s been cut this season by both the Roughriders and the Edmonton Eskimos, for whom he’s played a combined 55 career games.
The Eskimos released him from training camp. The 28-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., compiled 86 yards on 13 carries in his one game July 12 for Saskatchewan, but a fumble that led to a Lions field goal likely cost him his job there.