Former Stampeder Mike Labinjo remembered as a fun-loving guy with a supercharged arm

CALGARY—A former teammate of Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Mike Labinjo remembered him on Monday as a fun-loving guy who everyone enjoyed being around, and as a central piece in the team’s 2008 Grey Cup win.

The Toronto native, who made Calgary his home after retiring from the CFL in 2011, died on Saturday morning, a statement from the team said. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Labinjo was 38 years old.

Stampeders defensive co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks lined up alongside Labinjo on the D-line as teammates for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

“He was a great guy with a bubbly personality — fun to be around, always laughing and joking. You always had a great time with him; he’s going to be sorely missed,” Claybrooks said. “He really rode for his teammates.”

The two defensive linemen shared unit meetings and a lot of nights out together, Claybrooks said.

He shared a memory of Labinjo that made the stout defender stand out.

“He had that go-go-gadget elbow brace, and we used to make fun of it. But he always used to say ‘it was charged up!’ So it was charged up before he’d go and punch guys (on the offensive line),” Claybrooks said with a laugh.

The Stampeders drafted Labinjo in 2003 out of Michigan State University.

After spending some time in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, Labinjo joined Calgary in 2007.

He played 44 games with the team from 2007 to 2010.

Labinjo was a key piece of Calgary’s 2008 Grey Cup run and championship win, said veteran Stampeders play-by-play broadcaster Mark Stephen.

“His defining moment on the field would have been right down here in the 2008 West Division final,” which earned the team its berth in the Grey Cup that year, Stephen said, pointing to the south goal line at McMahon Stadium.

“He just stymied them beyond belief,” the radio broadcaster said, referencing two goal-line stands that kept the B.C. Lions out of the end zone to help maintain Calgary’s tight lead on the scoreboard.

Labinjo had back-to-back tackles for a loss on the third-quarter plays.

He finished that game with three sacks, six tackles, and a forced fumble.

On the field, he was “an imposing guy and a good athlete,” and off the field, “he sort of had that giant teddy bear look about him. Just his size and that general persona — very nice; always quite sunny and upbeat,” Stephen said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Mike’s death,” said Stampeders president and general manager John Hufnagel. “He was a big man with a big personality to match and he was a key part of our Grey Cup championship team in 2008. The team offers its condolences to Mike’s family and friends.”

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