HALIFAX - Dave Stala is a proven overachiever.
The Hamilton native didn’t see much field time in his first couple of seasons with the Saint Mary’s Huskies football team, but went on to carve a niche as a big-play receiver who also proved his worth on special teams, handling punts, kickoffs and field-goal duties.
Two Vanier Cup championships later, Stala was almost overlooked in the 2003 Canadian Football League draft. The Montreal Alouettes grabbed him in the sixth and final round with the 50th overall selection, and he wasn’t given much of a chance to make the team in training camp.
But Stala stuck, and has been in Montreal since. He broke the 1,000-yard receiving barrier for the first time last season, catching 83 balls for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns. His 11 catches against the B.C. Lions on Oct. 14, 2005, tied for the season-high in a game by any player in the league.
“The biggest thing for me was that I was patient with everything I was doing,” said Stala, in town last week for a Huskies football fundraiser. "I didn’t get much playing time at Saint Mary’s until my third season, and the same thing happened with the Alouettes.
“My first year there, I caught 12 balls, and my second year, I was hurt for 10 games. But last year, I got a chance to play with some guys missing and others hurt, and things are going well. Hopefully, it keeps going up from here.”
Stala will get to suit up again at his old stomping grounds, as the CFL confirmed last month the Alouettes will play the Ottawa Renegades in an exhibition game June 3 at Huskies Stadium.
“This is like a second home for me,” said Stala, 26. “It’s going to be nice to come back.”
Stala was part of a football renaissance at Saint Mary’s, where the Huskies won four Atlantic championships, three national semifinal bowl games and two Canadian championships during his tenure from 1999 to 2002. The 2001 team staked a claim as one of the best in history, going 11-0 and outscoring opponents 680-66.
Last year’s Touchdown Atlantic preseason tilt between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats drew 11,148 fans to Huskies Stadium. Stala is confident this market will continue to support the pro game.
“I know the stadium is a big issue, but the fan support is there,” said Stala, who immigrated to Canada from Poland when he was eight. “We had 10,000 fans at our major games, like the Atlantic Bowl. Seeing the support the (exhibition) game had here last year, I believe it had a positive effect on the CFL and that’s why they’re coming back here.”
Stala is signed through the 2007 season, and would like to collect some more rings in addition to the two he won at Saint Mary’s. The Alouettes have come agonizingly close, losing the 2003 and 2005 Grey Cup finals to the Edmonton Eskimos.
“We won (a Vanier Cup) my third year here, and I was hoping it’d be the same thing last year,” said Stala. "We were supposed to win, and things just didn’t work out.
“Montreal’s a good organization. They’ve been in the playoffs every year since 1995, and they always have a shot at the Grey Cup. It’s a great place for me to be.”