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Thu, September 11, 2008

UPDATED: 2008-09-11 02:21:21 MST

Selfless block highlights slotback's team-first attitude


In the late stages of last week's win over Edmonton came a play that typified the sort of team-first attitude Stamps coach John Hufnagel has preached all year.

And it came from one of the last people on the team fans would've associated with selflessness -- not just because of his history as a me-first receiver, but because an hour earlier his back and ribs hurt so badly he could hardly make it off the field.

Yet, seconds after Jeremaine Copeland hauled in a late pass the Stamps needed to turn into a first down, there was Nik Lewis, of all people, coming up with a painful block on Scott Coe that was so spectacular the coach anchored his highlight reel with it.

"As a matter of fact, in our first meeting back that was the one play I showed the whole team -- I was saying to them we won the game that night because a lot of players played with that type of mindset and intensity," said Hufnagel.

"It was a very selfless play knowing his priority was to, one, keep the player off his teammate; and two, help his teammate get a crucial first down. He's been a very good team player and a treat to coach ever since training camp. I don't see (selfishness) in him at all."

Is it possible he's talking about the same youngster who once called himself "the CFL's Terrell Owens," who once walked around with a sign on his back during practice with a message for the media, who used to call out opponents weekly and who spent years trumpeting the fact he had an alter-ego named Geronimo?

"Hey, Geronimo is still alive," said the ever-colourful 26-year-old receiver who goes by Nik on off days. "Last year it was Simon Sleepwalker because I didn't want to say too much because of everything that was going on. Now, Geronimo is back and alive and well -- he was the one who made that block. Nik's not a hot-tempered guy, Geronimo is."

We just don't hear from him as much anymore as part of an admirable development we've watched over five years.

"Geronimo is still in there but the talk ain't the same no more," said Copeland.

"He's growing up. Nik's getting older and is starting to understand you don't have to talk the game, you can go out there and walk it. And that's what he's doing."

And not just with enough catches to put him amongst CFL touchdown leaders but with several key blocks like the one he knew would cause him great pain.

"That's Geronimo, he isn't thinking at all about that pain," added Copeland.

"I think that's him growing into being more of a team player. That's something they've been looking for for a while. He's starting to become more of a man instead of a young boy."

Once described as the best 12-year-old in the league, the man who once celebrated almost every catch he made admits he's come a long way in terms of blending in.

"The comments I used to make and the things I used to do I never thought of as selfish -- I thought it was me being me and preparing myself to be the best I could be," said Lewis, chief choreographer of the team's old TD routines.

"It was just part of learning and growing. Now it's all about team."

Did he know that five years ago?

"No, because at first you do things for the team but at the same time you've got to establish yourself," said Lewis, suggesting that, like Owens, he too is misunderstood.

"Now that I feel like I'm pretty established I can go out and win a championship. I broke records in college and won personal awards but never won a championship and that's what all it's about."

Not just about Nik, nor Geronimo anymore.

"When I was growing up I looked up to Michael Irvin," said Lewis of the flashy Cowboys bad-boy. "He wasn't always the greatest citizen off the field but as far as the game goes I wanted to be physical and make big time plays."

Whoever is wearing No. 82 these days is doing just that, no matter how painful it may be.

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