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Hogan: Toronto's Gabriel makes first CFL start in Argos opener

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Mike Hogan
7/4/2014 11:37:16 PM
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As a kid he'd watch from the upper deck of Rogers Centre, back in the days when fans were allowed to sit in that area. Saturday afternoon Jermaine Gabriel will make his first CFL start far, far below those nosebleed seats.

Gabriel was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, in Toronto's east end. He'd become a star on the field at Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute, then he'd watch the local CFL squad, particularly drawn to the skills and leadership of Jordan Younger.

Now he gets to start at the same safety position where "J.Y." excelled at the end his career, before walking off the field for the final time after a win in the 100th Grey Cup game in 2012.

"It's my first start," Gabriel beamed. "I was supposed to start in a game last season, but I got hurt on the first play of the game on special teams."

If you think the 24-year old is pumped to play, you're bang on.

"Of course you're going to get amped up," Gabriel told TSN.ca. "I'm just ready to go."

The opportunity to play came about when Matt Black, the Argos starting safety, was injured in the season's opening game in Winnipeg. By the end of the 2013 campaign, Black was splitting time on the field with Gabriel, who had been the 17th overall pick in that year's draft. The veteran has been very helpful in first-time starter's preparation for the Roughriders.

"Matt's like an older brother to all of us in the secondary," continued Gabriel. "He's been here the longest (six seasons) and you can ask him anything and he won't hesitate to give us the right answer. He's actually helped me quite a bit in getting ready mentally for the game."

Black and Gabriel are both Toronto raised, but provide different skill sets. The elder player has the speed of a corner, but plays the game very cerebrally. The second-year player is more physical and will make opposing players pay the price if they wander into his area.

Getting ready for the Riders means preparing for one of, if not the most talented team in the CFL. When asked what the best part of the Riders' offence was Gabriel paused, as if going over a mental checklist of all the problems the opposition could provide. After a long pause he settled on what was likely the person he thought about as soon as the question was posed.

"Darian Durant," deadpanned the safety about Saskatchewan's quarterback. "He's a great player and we're just going to have to play solid, disciplined defence."

As Gabriel wades into his pro career, he's still sometimes at a loss to think about the way his career has progressed, now playing for the team he watched as a kid.

"It sunk in a bit last year," Gabriel admitted, the smile on his face widening as he continued. "I've got guys in the stands that when I walk by they scream 'Scarborough!' and they cheer, so it's good that they recognize that I'm actually from here and I get to play for my home team."

There will be many young football players in the stands at the Rogers Centre Saturday afternoon. No doubt, at least one of them will be a defensive back, and if Gabriel makes a big play or two, the fan may become as inspired by the hometown hero as the current Argo was by Jordan Younger.

Jermaine Gabriel  (Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images )

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(Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images )
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