Daren Stone has enough National Football League experience to know he has what it takes to play with the best in the game.
He is spending the 2011 football season playing north of the border in the hope of returning to the NFL.
Earlier this year, the former University of Maine standout from Lockport, N.Y., signed on with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
“I hadn’t played football for two years, but I made the right choice,” said Stone, who turned 26 Sunday. “I’m back doing what I love.”
Stone had been out of football since the Baltimore Ravens failed to offer him a contract after the 2008-09 season. That development followed the NFL’s four-game suspension of Stone for undisclosed reasons in March, 2009.
He contemplated joining the work force as a personal trainer but continued to work out. He decided to return to football, but was unable to play during 2010-11 after suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon.
Stone rehabilitated that injury and was able to hook on with the Stampeders. He has played a handful of different positions, most recently linebacker.
However, he is sidelined with a biceps injury and has played in only three of Calgary’s seven games.
“I’m about another week away,” Stone said. “I’d rather be out there running around, making plays.”
Stone played at UMaine from 2003-06, playing 41 games for coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears. The defensive back racked up 10 career interceptions.
He was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round (203rd overall) of the 2007 draft, played in 12 games for the Falcons in 2007-08 and made 10 tackles. He was cut by Atlanta prior to the 2008-09 season in the wake of a DWI arrest in June 2008.
He later signed with the Dallas Cowboys but did not play in any games, then was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens midway through the 2008-09 campaign.
Stone played in eight games for the Ravens. He is confident in his ability to play in the NFL.
“It’s a fight that’s worth fighting and worth winning,” Stone said. “It’s also a fight that’s a little more difficult and takes a little more time.”
Playing in the CFL has required some adjustments. Stone researched the Calgary franchise and the history of the league to have a base of knowledge about the CFL.
He also had to learn a bunch of new rules. Stone said speed is critical in the CFL, where the field is 110 yards long with end zones that are each 20 yards deep.
The playing surface also is 65 yards wide, with 24 yards between the sideline and the hash marks on each side of the field.
“It’s like an ocean,” Stone said of the CFL field. “There’s a lot of running, so it’s more about speed here. It’s a more pass-related type of football.”
Stone, who checks in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, believes he has made a smooth transition. While he was primarily a safety in the NFL, he started out at cornerback with the Stampeders but is now playing weak-side linebacker.
Stone said the fact he played different positions at UMaine helped prepare him for the pro game. He explained trying to cover receivers and track down ballcarriers on the larger field, and adapting to the dynamic of having multiple offensive players in motion and even moving toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped, have helped him improve.
“I feel like I’m going to be a tremendous football player when I leave here,” said Stone, who still has a home in Atlanta.
He is convinced that given the right circumstances, he could again play in the NFL.
“Up here, it really doesn’t matter, the best guy plays,” Stone said, referring to the NFL’s trend toward favoring the big-contract players when making personnel decisions.
“Coming into this situation, I can be more confident about playing because I know if I work at my craft, I can control my own destiny,” he said.
Stone is thankful for the opportunity to have received a football scholarship from UMaine. He developed a close bond with former assistant coach Jeff Cole, who recruited him.
Cole died of cancer in 2004 and the Bears’ annual spring intrasquad scrimmage is named in his memory.
“Every time I think of Maine, I think of him (Cole),” said Stone, who tries to stay in touch with several of his former teammates. “I think of Maine often, because I have so many friends from Maine.”
Former Black Bear teammates Montell Owens (Jacksonville), Mike DeVito (New York Jets), Jovan Belcher (Kansas City) and Matt Mulligan of West Enfield (Jets) are presently on NFL rosters.
Stone said he misses playing on a college football game day.
“I definitely miss the college life — no bills, no worries — just school and football,” he explained, “and I definitely miss the people of Maine.”
Stone revealed he is working to start a foundation that will provide athletic footwear for underprivileged kids in his native Jamaica and in his hometown of Lockport, N.Y.
“We’re collecting athletic shoes, any kind of sneakers, and donations,” Stone said, “and we’re going to make a yearly trip to Jamaica and my hometown of Lockport.”
In the meantime, Stone hopes to prove he is worthy of another chance to play in the NFL.