Stone's path leads to Calgary
Lockport native playing in CFL
By Lauren Mariacher
News Staff Reporter
Published:July 10, 2011, 12:26 AM
Updated: July 10, 2011, 8:15 AM
Daren Stone has never enjoyed being the center of attention, said his father, Eric.
"When Daren graduated from high school, I asked him if he wanted a graduation party," said Eric Stone. "Right away he said no. He's never liked the spotlight. He works hard to be there, but he's never acted like he wants to be."
Whether he likes it or not, he's there now.
Stone, a Lockport native and former safety for the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, is back in his old role after two years away from the game.
"My attitude has changed a lot, and I appreciate the game a little more after missing it," said Stone, who is making his return to professional football this season, playing outside linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League.
He's dropped a few pounds, making it easier for him to cover the field, which is wider and longer than an NFL field.
"Your condition has to be at a higher level than in the NFL," Stone said in a phone interview. "You have to run a lot more, and I'm down to 210 [pounds]. In the NFL, I was 220. I'm moving a lot faster now. I'm more like a corner."
The last time the sixth-round draft pick suited up for a professional football game was in January 2009, when the Ravens faced the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC Championship.
During the fourth quarter, Stone was called for unnecessary roughness on the Steelers' Anthony Madison out of bounds, backing the Ravens' offense up on a momentous drive. The Ravens lost, 23-14, and Stone, an exclusive-rights free agent, was not offered a contract by the team in the 2009 offseason.
"It was a little bit of shock, a little bit of being upset, and a little bit of being down on myself," said Stone. "It crossed my mind to walk away from the game, but it was never a serious thought."
"Growing up Daren was never negative," said Stone's father, while sitting in the kitchen of his Lockport home, where a mini-shrine to Daren, one of his five sons, still holds its place in the living room. "He always thinks, 'I'm gonna have another chance.'‚"
With no team claiming him, Stone began training in November 2009 at a sports performance training facility in Philadelphia. The following May, he suffered a setback when he injured his Achilles tendon during a workout.
After eight months of missing the game, Stone received a call from Calgary. In April, he impressed Stampeder scouts at a workout in Orlando and was invited to camp.
"We're always in need of guys like him," said Stampeders defensive coordinator Chris Jones. "He's got all the measurables. He's fast, big, strong, explosive. All the things you look for in a football player."
Jones has had his eye on Stone since he was a rookie in the NFL. "I went down to Atlanta for [Falcons] mini-camp and saw Daren practice," said Jones. "He's been on our radar ever since. He looked like a [weakside] linebacker or a hybrid [defensive back]."
Stone's versatility makes him more attractive to coaches, Jones said.
"He's always been a guy that possesses great physical tools that allow you to play him in so many areas. That's the thing that makes his value go up."
Stone is expected to play both strong and weakside linebacker for the Stampeders. He made his debut in Calgary's 34-32 win over BC on Friday and made one tackle on special teams. He suffered a minor hamstring injury during practice the day before the Stampeders' first game July 1.
The former University of Maine Black Bear showed promise in preseason, said Jones, and coaches expect him to be fast and physical out on the field.
Stone is ready to show up when the lights turn on.
"I'm looking forward to the first time being back out there," said Stone. "I think being here has made me a better football player," Stone said. "My overall goal is to just take advantage of this opportunity right now and we'll see what happens next year. If I have a chance to go back to the NFL, I probably would."firstname.lastname@example.org