Morris: Mayala hungry for more in sophomore season

Most everyone has learned something about themselves while dealing with COVID-19.

When the worldwide pandemic forced the CFL to cancel the 2020 season, Calgary Stampeder receiver Hergy Mayala had a harsh lesson in how something that is a major part of his life can quickly be taken away from him.

“It’s been really an eye-opener,” said Mayala, picked eighth overall by Calgary in the 2019 draft. “My whole life I’ve played football, never missed a season for anything. And suddenly it was taken away. It was eye-opening, a little bit hurtful.”

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It also helped Mayala realize what he missed most.

“I would say the people more than the game,” said the 25-year-old from Montreal. “In the locker room you come across people from all walks of life. Not having that, some of the things that some of my teammates have been through, you appreciate more the people you have in the locker room.”

Mayala’s first year of professional football was also a learning curve. In his first six games he had just three catches for 28 yards. His first 100-yard performance (three catches, 116 yards) came in game 12 against Montreal. He caught his first two touchdowns the next week against Saskatchewan.

“I felt like I underperformed,” said Mayala. “Football is football, you have to go out there and earn your keep. I felt like when I got to Calgary, I didn’t really understand everything that was going on, everything about being a professional.

“When I started figuring that out, the results did kind of unfold.”

The six-foot-one, 212-pound Mayala showed his potential over the final five regular season games with 22 catches for 405 yards and five touchdowns. He ended his rookie season with 38 catches for 562 yards and a 14.8 average.

The transition from being the go-to guy in college to being another option in a very deep Stampeder receiving corps wasn’t always easy.

“It was completely different from college and high school,” he said. “Every single week is different, every week there are specific plays being called.

“Growing up, when you are a number-one target, you just kind of know when you will get the ball. But in professional, everybody’s alive.”

The Stampeder passing attack had plenty of weapons in Reggie Begelton and Eric Rogers, both 1,000-yard receivers, and sure-handed players like Markeith Ambles and Don Jackson. Mayala also had to gain the trust of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.

“I felt at practices he was a guy that has done so much in his career and has so much more to achieve,” said Mayala. “A young guy like me, I had to go out there and every day in practice show him I’m going to be wherever you need me.”

It took a while for quarterback and receiver to get on the same page.

“I got more comfortable being where I was supposed to be and doing what I was supposed to do,” he said. “Everything kind of slowed down and I was able to have the end of the year that I had.”

It also helped Mayala’s locker was between Begelton and Rogers.

“Throughout the year they gave me a lot of advice, how to prepare for games,” he said.

Mayala was born in the Congo and moved to Montreal with his family when he was seven. The youngest of five children, he grew up loving basketball and began playing football when he was 13. He played both in high school until his mother gave him an ultimatum. Pick a sport so he could concentrate on school.

“I chose football,” he said. “I liked the aggressiveness about it. I liked having guys count on me, not letting them down.

“Every week you have to go out there and perform your best. In basketball you get three or four games a week but football you get one game and you have to go out there and do your best. I fell in love with it.”

“I want to go out there and show my skills. I want to show I am one of the best, if not the best, at what I do. That’s my goal.”

Hergy Mayala

To enhance his career, Mayala made the decision to attend high school at Trinity-Pawling School in New York state, the same school that produced offensive lineman Derek Dennis.

Being away from home wasn’t easy.

“Not having the physical presence of the one you love was the hardest,” he said. “I felt I was there for a reason.”

After high school Mayala played four seasons at the University of Connecticut. In 43 games he had 113 catches for 1,352 yards and 12 touchdowns. His mother would make the seven-hour drive from Montreal to attend home games.

“It was great,” said Mayala. “That was one of the reasons why I decided to go to Connecticut, it was the closest to home. Having your primary support around you, being away from home in high school, I didn’t have that. It was something I missed.”

Mayala remained in Calgary after the 2020 season was cancelled. When health regulations allowed, he would get together with Mitchell to catch some passes.

“It’s been good,” he said. “We’ve been having some chemistry. I think it’s going to be big because he knows my tendencies, how I run my routes and what I’m looking for.”

The CFL season is scheduled to resume in August. The Stampedes will be without both Rodgers, who signed with the Toronto Argonauts, and Begelton, currently with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Mayala sees the Stampeders’  loss as an opportunity for him.

“It’s a big hole that has to be filled and I’m looking to fill that hole,” he said. “Like every receiver, you are looking to broaden and show what you worked on. I’m not going to shy away from showing what I worked on.

“I want to go out there and show my skills. I want to show I am one of the best, if not the best, at what I do. That’s my goal.”

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