Stavros Katsantonis

Liberty graduate Stavros Katsantonis (18), seen here making an interception at the University of British Columbia, won't be making his pro debut in 2020 after the CFL canceled its season.

Stavros Katsantonis has often proved adept at making the most out of less-than-ideal circumstances.

When the former Liberty High School defensive back was unable to land any major college offers stateside, he thrived after taking his talents to Canada. In four years at the University of British Columbia, he recorded 20 interceptions, the second most in school history.

When his professional career was delayed — a positive test for banned substance before the 2019 Canadian Football League Combine caused a one-year suspension — he spent his time away training restlessly for his next opportunity. That opportunity came in April, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 league draft.

Now, Katsantonis will look to plow through another roadblock. Earlier this week, it was announced that his professional career would be delayed for at least another year, as the 2020 CFL season became the latest sports-related casualty of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Having yet to work out with his Hamilton teammates, Katsantonis knew a return to play was a long shot, but says it was still disheartening to get the bad news.

"When you’re a football player, there’s always optimism, even in the darkest times, that things are going to pull through," he said. "So I think up until those very last minutes I was like ‘there’s definitely a chance we’re going to play.’ Then you see it gets canceled and we’re back to square one."

Though Katsantonis, who is back home for the time being, will have to extend an already lengthy absence from action, he's not expected to be rusty when he gets back on the field.

Throughout the offseason, he's been training at Carr Elite in Bakersfield, an establishment he's frequented since his junior year of high school, and instructors expect he'll be at his best, both physically and mentally, by the time 2021 rolls around.

"He's just the epitome of a football player," said Eric Mahanke, a Carr Elite strength and conditioning coach who played collegiately at Fresno State. "He's always working and mentally, with just his instincts, he's way beyond other guys at his level. When he gets on the field, he's a complete package."

And while he's trying to trying to make the most of his time away, Katsantonis admits he will be ready to unleash two years of pent-up aggression when he returns to action.

"In life, things don't go your and way you've just got to figure things out and make the best of it," he said. "(But) when the time comes, it'll be full-steam ahead.

"You put the dog back in the cage a little longer and it comes out ready to bite. I'll be taking that same methodology into the season."

Katsantonis is one of several players with Bakersfield ties who lost a place to play when the CFL pulled the plug on its season.

His Tiger-Cat teammate Brandon Banks, a Bakersfield College alum, was the league's Most Outstanding Player last season, recording 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns as a wide receiver.

Banks and Hamilton lost the Grey Cup to a Winnipeg Blue Bombers team featuring former local prep standouts Kyrie Wilson (Ridgeview) and Mercy Maston (Bakersfield High).

Wilson, a linebacker, recorded 67 tackles, the second most on the team, in 2019. He also had an interception and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Maston recorded 13 tackles from his defensive back position.

Former Garces coach A.J. Gass was also set for his second season as a special teams coordinator for the Edmonton Football Team, an organization he won Grey Cups with as a player in 2003 and 2005. 

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