For a long time, no one really knew what was wrong with Weyburn’s Brendon LaBatte.
The veteran Roughrider offensive lineman was injured when he ended up at the bottom of a pile during a play in July 2016.
He didn’t see the field for the rest of the season, in fact, Sunday at Roughriders training camp in Saskatoon, was his first time getting back into the game he loves.
“I was trying to play like I didn’t have any nerves about it, but I was actually a little bit nervous,” LaBatte said.
With good reason. For weeks LaBatte and the Roughriders operated on the assumption he had a concussion, but after six weeks of showing little improvement, they realized it could be something else.
LaBatte was sent to the southern United States to see a specialist and it turned out it was something else: a bruised nerve in his neck.
“It was kind of weird,” said head coach Chris Jones. “We didn’t understand it.”
Fortunately, the specialist had seen it many times before and was able to develop a plan to get LaBatte back on the field. But before that, LaBatte was worried his football days were over.
“If it wasn’t for the Riders sending me down there to get it verified and get an official diagnosis, I mean, I don’ know if I would have been back out,” he admitted.
What his head coach saw, was a player who wanted desperately to help his teammates during a season that saw the Riders win just five games.
Chris Jones decided the team had to do whatever they could to get LaBatte the answers he needed.
“I thought, you know what, let’s just send him to the number one specialist in the world. It’s going to cost us a little money but we can get some clarity on whether he can or cannot play again, and then he can get the clarity he needed so he can turn loose and play,” Jones said.
For LaBatte, the chief concern was his future after football. The married father of two didn’t want to risk anything that would affect him later on in life.
“You got two knees, you got two ankles, but you only got one neck, one head,” he said, but after a solid offseason of working out with no flare ups, he was more than ready to get back on the field.
“I felt pretty good about it, but you never know until the contact comes how it’s going to hold up, but (we) banged buckets a few times and it felt good out there,” LaBatte said with a grin.
In fact, there probably wasn’t a player on the field that was smiling as much as LaBatte, who appreciates his 10th training camp even more.
An appreciation that comes only from being so close to losing something you love so much.
“That was one thing I told myself this year. I’m going to take the time to enjoy it with the guys a little bit more.”
ARIELLE’S ALL STARS
Defensive end Willie Jefferson was unstoppable in one-on-one drills in camp Monday, working himself past each offensive lineman with relative ease.
In the same drills, A.C. Leonard knocked Kennedy Estelle flat on his butt.
- Chris Jones announced that the team has come to terms with second overall pick Cameron Judge, though the contract has not been officially signed
- Jones was also asked if the team was interested in all-star linebacker Bear Wood who was released from the Alouettes Monday morning: “He’s a good player and certainly his name has come up. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Training Camp continues at Griffiths Stadium on Tuesday. It runs from 9:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.