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You can call me Sam - Graeme Stevens finds a home at Mount A

You can call Graeme Stevens a number of things.

The Sid Forster Most Outstanding Player, dating back to his time dominating the local high-school football ranks as a double duty threat with the Lo-Ellen Park Knights.

A Mount Allison Mounties' starter, which Stevens has been for the better part of the past two seasons, with two seasons of U Sport eligibility still remaining.

Captain, a position to which he was named prior to his third year, a campaign in which he showed enough to be selected to the East/West Bowl, a CFL/U Sport partnered event.

But most of all, just call him SAM - because that's the position where he has truly found a home in Sackville, New Brunswick.

"It's a hybrid, a strong outside position," explained the well-spoken 21 year old, with visions of Law School as the next step, following up his Political Science undergraduate degree. "Sometimes I am lining up in the box, like a true linebacker, but most of the time, I'm out in space, where you are more of a defensive back at the second level."

"It's something that I've definitely had to adjust to."

But adjust he has, posting a 2019 stat-line that included 12 tackles, 20 assisted tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. That kind of productivity was nowhere in sight when Stevens, who starred as both a linebacker and running back during his time with the Knights and the Sudbury Gladiators, focused on simply surviving his first training camp in August of 2017.

"I knew that it was going to be tough, but that was easily the hardest thing I have ever done in my life," Stevens recalled. "I thought I was ready, but I should have ran a lot more, done way more cardio. We had two a day practices, in the heat, four to five hours of meetings. We had a three week training camp and I lost twenty pounds."

"I was 225 going in, and by the end of the season, I was 185. When I was in that camp, all I kept thinking was that I don't want to be that guy who went to camp, found it really hard, and came back to Sudbury. You just take it one day at a time and get through it."

A positional change, for Stevens, by comparison, was an absolute walk in the park.

"I got to university thinking I was going to play middle linebacker, that's where I had played all the way through,"

he said. "But frankly, they want larger guys. Most of our middle linebackers, and even the weak side linebackers, are 6'2"ish."

To understand just how far Graeme Stevens has come, one must revisit his inaugural outing as a Mountie. "My very first game, an exhibition game in my first year, I basically just got beat up," he said. "It was not a fun experience."

In his sophomore year, with a brand new coaching staff in place and a full scale rebuild on the go, Stevens would start every single game at SAM. But on both a team basis - Mount Allison went 2-6 in 2018 - and an individual one, there was still plenty of room for growth.

"I was definitely stronger at stopping the run for my first two seasons," noted Stevens. "But my weakness was the pass - until this year." Stevens would find the perfect mentor in Defensive Coordinator Zak Colangelo. "He worked with me so much this past season, and I improved a lot - just subtle things that you don't get taught in high-school."

At 5'11" and 200 pounds - Stevens wants to work on chiseling down to a lean 200 pounds this summer - the northern lad is blessed with good, but certainly not great speed. Trying to cover receivers, slotbacks and running backs, in space, was going to require avoiding an all out foot race.

"The thing about covering guys that are faster than you, in space, is that you've got to be smart," said Stevens. "You can make up for a lot of size and speed deficiencies in football just by being smart, being coached well, knowing where things are going to go."

"One of the things I have learned is that most of the time, I'm not even worried about what the receiver is doing. I'm mildly worried, but I am reading the quarterback. My eyes, right off the bat, don't leave the quarterback for at least three seconds. I'm reading him and trying to jump things."

"I'm good at blitzing, too, so they blitz me a lot," Stevens added. "I'm really good at timing up, knowing when to blitz, and I have decent moves."

Though he looked seriously at Queen's University in Kingston as a post-secondary destination of choice, Stevens is now all the happier for his final selection, even more aware of the importance of finding the right fit. "The thing with southern Ontario schools is that the coaches already know all of the guys, they've coached them in summer ball," he said.

"If you're a guy from Sudbury, you are very much an outsider. That was one of the things that drew me out east, because everyone is coming from somewhere else."

And as for what has continued to draw the Mount Allison coaches to Stevens, he suggested, is really a tried and true approach. "I think the number one thing for me was work ethic. I'm not the biggest guy, I'm not the fastest guy. If you're from Sudbury and you're not freaky athletic, and you want success, you have to be that guy who shows up ten minutes early for every meeting."

"Are you a guy who helps bring water out for practice and helps take things off the field? Are you that guy who is the first person in every line for every drill? You look at the guys that are having success, and these are all things that they do."

Stevens is anxious for the start of the 2020 season, and it goes well beyond looking forward to the days when COVID-19 will stop monopolizing the headlines. The Mounties return an extremely strong core of young talent, and are coming off their first playoff appearance in the past few years.

And while he does not rule out football, beyond 2021, especially if the CFL were to show interest, Stevens understands that there is life after his gridiron playing days. "It's a lot of wear and tear on your body," he stated. "I think when I'm done playing football, I'll move on the coaching."

And then you can call him coach Stevens.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League