Comfort of Calgary draws all-star lineman Derek Dennis back to Stampeders

Derek Dennis didn’t dye his hair red for Calgary Stampeders training camp, but says he’ll be sporting crimson locks by the season-opener.

The man who won the CFL’s outstanding lineman award as a Stampeder in 2016 had green hair last season as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

But the Roughriders abruptly released Dennis the day free agency opened in February.

The 29-year-old from New York chose to return to the Stampeders for multiple reasons and previous success was high on that list.

“I had a coach here that knew me, knew the type of player I was, knew what my capability was, and my abilities,” Dennis said Sunday on the first day of Stampeder main camp.

“I knew the way he pushed me in ’16 to get me to that level of play, I wanted to get back to that. That was the biggest aspect of me coming back.”

Calgary offensive line coach Pat DelMonaco was initially surprised Dennis was a free agent, but then pleased to have a seasoned performer back at Stampeder camp.

“We have a good relationship, so I think Derek knew exactly what he was signing up for and I think he’s ready for it,” DelMonaco said. “He’s a proven player in the league. If he comes in, and he has, with the right mindset to get better, hopefully he can become a quality starter again.”

The six-foot-three, 341-pound Temple alum was a key cog in a Calgary line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league (20) and helped Jerome Messam run for a league-leading 1,198 yards in 2016.

Dennis demonstrated his versatility with starts at mostly at left tackle, but also at left and right guard.

The CFL all-star’s price tag deemed too high by Calgary when Dennis became a free agent in 2017, the Roughriders were willing to pay it.

Dennis signed a three-year contract, according to the Regina Leader-Post, that was also rumoured to have made him one of the highest-paid American linemen in the CFL.

He started 15 regular-season games – six at left tackle and nine at left guard – for the Roughriders in 2017.

Dennis sat out the final three games of the regular season with a back injury, but returned to play in the Eastern semifinal and final at left guard.

Roughriders coach and GM Chris Jones indicated releasing Dennis was a salary-cap move.

“To be honest, I really don’t know,” Dennis said. “They decided to go in a different direction and I wish them the very best. I don’t have ill will towards anybody.

“It’s part of the business of football. There’s numbers involved. Those guys do the way they do things and that’s just what it is.”

Returning to Calgary made the most sense to him.

“Biggest thing was familiarity,” Dennis said. “I know Pat DelMonaco very well. Him also being a New York guy and me being a kid from New York, we always had a really good chemistry.

“I felt, going back into the whole free agency thing, I wanted to focus more not on the business aspect of things, but more on the personal side. Go somewhere where I’m familiar with the coach, familiar with the guys in the locker room.

“Most people don’t realize the relationships you have with the coaching staff and the players off the field, affects how you play on it.”

Another reason for signing with Calgary was there are quick, direct flights to and from Phoenix where his partner and young son live. Kayson Carter Dennis was born in October.

“I have a new motivation because I know my livelihood depends on me being able to take care of my son and my lady back home,” Dennis said.

“The biggest adjustment for me now being a new father is being away in a different country and not being able to see him every day. Job comes first. That’s how I take care of my family.

“It’s one of those sacrifices as Americans we make when we come to play up here.”

Must Read