He has been a finalist for the CFL's top Canadian award and twice a 1,000-yard receiver but for much of this season Dave Stala has been a forgotten man in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' offence.
The veteran slotback has just 28 catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns. He's on pace to finish with 39 catches for 630 yards, which would be his lowest production since arriving in Hamilton in '09 after spending his first six CFL seasons with Montreal.
"It has been difficult for me," said the former Saint Mary's Huskies standout. "I've been the guy here the last few years catching anywhere from 60 to 80 balls but we've had some great guys come in and the ball has to be spread around.
"As a receiver you're never satisfied to just be out there, you always want to be making plays and scoring touchdowns. If you're a receiver in this league and you don't want the ball, you shouldn't be playing."
The six-foot-two, 198-pound Stala played a big offensive role his first three years in Steeltown, registering 211 catches for 2,537 yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2010, he had a career-high 85 receptions for 1,015 yards and six TDs and was the East Division nominee for the CFL's top Canadian award.
That season, he also unveiled a creatively unique hacky sack touchdown dance that was featured prominently by Canadian and U.S. television networks.
This season Stala finds himself surrounded by quality receivers with the off-season addition of free-agent slotback Andy Fantuz, signing of '08 first-round pick Sam Giguere and quick development of sophomores Bakari Grant and Chris Williams -- the CFL's top rookie last season -- and first-year player Onrea Jones. Suddenly, there's no shortage of options for quarterback Henry Burris, who leads the league in TD passes (32) and is second in passing yards (3,846).
Stala, 32, a native of Poland who grew up in Hamilton, figured in Hamilton's 41-28 home win over Montreal on Friday night. He had four catches for 40 yards and two TDs in the contest after recording nine receptions for 150 yards and a TD the five previous games combined.
Stala has been held without a catch twice this season and almost a quarter of his 2012 production came in a 39-36 loss to B.C. on July 6 when he registered a season-high six catches for 96 yards. Stala also had a career-best 87-yard TD reception in a 51-8 win over Edmonton on Sept. 15.
"Being around for a while, you do see the big picture," said the 10-year CFL veteran. "There does come a point where you do have to say something to the coaches and let them know how you feel about what's going on.
"I did say something and the coaches understood and it's all fine. To me right now, the most important thing is for us to win games down the stretch."
And there'd be no time like now for Hamilton to get hot. With five regular-season games remaining the Ticats (5-8) are third in the East Division standings, four points ahead of last-place Winnipeg (3-10) and four points behind second-place Toronto (7-6).
Hamilton faces Edmonton (5-8) in a crucial game Friday night. The Eskimos are last in the West Division but in the CFL if the fourth-place finisher in one division has more points than the third-place squad in the other, the fourth-place team crosses over and assumes the rival division's final playoff spot.
Hamilton could be facing the Eskimos at the right time. Not only has Edmonton dropped five straight, but head coach Kavis Reed has assumed the offensive co-ordinator and play-calling duties from Marcus Crandell, who was demoted to quarterbacks coach.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt (knee), who has a CFL-leading 104 tackles, is doubtful.
"We can't be concerned about them," Stala said. "We have to be concerned about what we've got going on here.
"I'd say this is probably our most important game of the season."
The Ticats lead the CFL in scoring (30.8 points per game), are second in passing (295.8 yards per game) and third in total yards (383.3 per game). They also have a potent rushing attack with rookie Chevon Walker (576 yards, 5.8-yards per carry) and veteran Avon Cobourne (478 yards, 6.3-yards per carry).
"As long as we're clicking on all cylinders I think we're pretty dangerous," Stala said. "We know what we're capable of."
It has been a roller-coaster campaign for Hamilton, picked by many pre-season prognosticators as the team to beat in the East Division. However, Stala says experience has taught him a valuable lesson.
"We all know how the CFL works," he said. "The team that gets hot down the stretch usually wins the Grey Cup.
"I've been playing 10 years and have experienced only one losing season and never missed the playoffs and I don't want that to happen this year."