Calgary Stampeder Specialist Coordinator Mark Kilam will be the super-lonely guy with the wild hair and the big smile on the side of the Gray Cup Sunday, pumped as his turner waving through tacklers – a common occurrence with his guys.
When you look up animated in your Webster glossary, you will find a picture of Kilam, the former University of Alberta Golden Bears line-backer and now the longest serving coach of CFL, in his 14th season with Stampeders.
And as opposed to NFL, where fair catches are the norm for the tipping and kickoffs almost always passes through the finish zone without any attempt at a return, the CFL game about special team and field position is a gold mine for guys like Kilam.
"I'm trying to bring energy all the time and that's something I ask from my guys. It's me I'm. I live and die with guys covering kicks and I'm very excited about them because I know how hard they work to do these gigs, says Kilam.
"Sometimes he's out of control on the sidelines, but in a good way," Stuck general manager and former head coach John Hufnagel chuckled.
Kilam started with the team as a strength and conditioning coach, then received a trip as quality control and linebacker / linebacker / defensive back coach, then a special team top dog 2010 when Craig Dickenson, Dave's brother, joined the Oakland Raiders.
Every year, the stamps are one of the best point and kickback teams. Last year it was Roy Finch, before it was Larry Taylor. This season, Terry Williams, Romar Morris, has hurt his ankle in the Westfinals against Winnipeg and Canadian Tunde Adeleke. Williams ran back three kickoffs for TD in the regular season and the team led CFL on average 12.3 yards on point returns. They also have one of the best, if not the best punts / place-kicker duos in Rob Maver and Rene Paredes, a good long snapper in Pierre-Luc Caron. Wynton McManis led the CFL with 24 special tackles.
All worn by Kilam.
"Mark is a football guy … he takes the time to become a better coach, he is a motivated guy, and he is very willing to coach his players," says Hufnagel.
It did not start smoothly for Kilam, who grew up in Lethbridge, son of two doctors – father Surender, a surgeon and mother Jan, in sports medicine. His first training camp scrimmage was a bust and Hufnagel got on him because there were only 11 players in the field for a special team game.
"Yes, it was a gong show … we had 11 players on the field twice and guys could not get the ball," Kilam acknowledged in a Calgary Herald story 2012.
No one on the current Stampeder coaching staff has made more trips to the Gray Cup. This is Kilam's sixth game but it will never be old, even though he has been through the mediator so many times.
"When I started playing a soccer ball, I was on the defensive side," said Kilam, who played Golden Bears from 1997-2001, then coached high school football in Cochrane for three years.
"When you enter a special team, you develop your own niche and it is a position where it is difficult to take an American coach because they do not know all the rules and things," he said. "If you can establish yourself with a special team, it's a good long life."
Special teams in NFL are not something like the wide, large field of CFL.
"It's one of the best things about CFL. Everyone loves the return game and all special teams guys love to cover kicks too," said Kilam.
"Special teams are overlooked a lot, but the game is about field position in CFL. We control momentum swings and if you control that part of the game, you create big crimes and great defense," said Kilam.
Kilam has been through lots of returnees but the same kickers for years, obviously a good thing. Paredes (41 out of 45 field goals made this year) and Maver are both high-end. "Both really good professionals," said Kilam.
"Team changes every year but fortunately, our players have done a great job finding guys for us, not only the guys drive things back but the 11 guys in front of them," said Kilam, who has a affinity for returnees.
"They must have courage and ball skills … they all have a level of athletic ability, but they have to keep healthy. They beat quite a bit," said Kilam, who could have left the 2013 stamps for Golden Bear's main job but chose to stay.
"I have a tattoo on Golden Bears on my body because I played for them but that was a choice I made (stopping with the stamps) and I have not looked back," said Kilam, whose college job career is cut off by a series of knee injuries. He actually did some coaching at U of A.
"There's no doubt I want to be a head coach in this league but special team guys … they're not the sexy pick," said Kilam. "But they are the guys who train the whole team, focus not only on one side. They go through all situations."