The dream never died for Michael Klukas.
Born and raised in Calgary, he often imagined himself running out of McMahon Stadium’s tunnel wearing a jersey with a galloping horse on it.
“A million times,” Klukas said Friday.
That vision becomes reality for the 25-year-old receiver Saturday when the Calgary Stampeders host the Ottawa Redblacks in the season opener for both CFL teams, which also is a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup.
Defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders retain great expectations
Klukas, who played five seasons for the University of Calgary Dinos, made the roster of the defending Grey Cup champions ahead of bigger names cut in training camp.
Passed over in the 2017 Canadian college draft and signed later that year by the Stampeders, Klukas spent 10 weeks on Calgary’s practice roster last season before a broken thumb in September prompted his release.
“Can’t say it was the easiest time of my life in any way,” Klukas said.
“The dream survived essentially because I feel I have such great people around me — family, my mom, another special group of friends and loved ones. I had these teammates in my ear all off-season telling me ‘you can do something with this. Don’t quit.’”
“It’s something I want so bad. Even though it was hard last year, honestly in my mind, I never said ‘you can’t do this.’”
When his hand was healthy last November, Klukas caught passes in pre-dawn workouts from Stampeders backup quarterback Nick Arbuckle “just in case” Calgary needed his services again.
Listed at six feet and generously at 189 pounds, Klukas isn’t a physically imposing receiver, but he’s fast.
Illness hampered his preparation for the western regional combine in 2017, yet he still ran the fastest 40 yards in 4.58 seconds
He wasn’t invited to the national combine that year, however. Saskatchewan receiver Julan Lynch was and the Stampeders selected Lynch in the second round that year.
Calgary released Lynch and Griff Whalen, a wideout with NFL experience, on cut-down day last Saturday.
Klukas had caught a pair of passes, including a 45-yarder from Arbuckle, in the previous night’s pre-season game against the B.C. Lions.
“I’m proud of him because he’s kind of earned everything he’s got,” head coach Dave Dickenson said.
“[When] he broke his hand, he could have just shut it down and decided to move on, but he wanted to give it another go. He looks stronger and still has good speed and is very smart. He doesn’t probably look like a football guy, pretty skinny. He works hard at it. He wants to be a pro. He took a little bit longer path than some others, but I’m proud he decided to buy in, put the work in and you can see the results.”
Going to watch the Stampeders in the Labour Day game was an annual ritual for Klukas and his late father Ralph, who died in 2014.
“That was probably my favourite part of the summer,” Klukas said.
He was injured a lot during his university career, but amassed 82 career receptions for 1,253 yards for the Dinos. Klukas scored a team-leading seven touchdowns in 2017 and posted four 100-yard games.
Klukas wants to contribute any way he can to his CFL team’s success, which he hopes in turn gets him into the Grey Cup game in his hometown in November.
“I don’t care if I catch zero passes a game, (or) a hundred passes a game as long as we win and I do my job to help us win,” he said. “I really mean that.”
“If the ball doesn’t find me, that’s OK as long as I’m being reliable and helping other players get open and completing my assignments.”
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