When concussion symptoms forced Dan Federkeil to retire from the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2009, he was sure his football career was over.
The offensive lineman from Medicine Hat returned to Alberta, where he’d starred for five seasons with the University of Calgary Dinos. Federkeil was able to complete his economics degree as his headaches waned.
His desire to return to the football field aligned with the Calgary Stampeders’ acquisition of Federkeil’s CFL rights from the Toronto Argonauts this year. Federkeil reported to Calgary’s rookie camp and is now auditioning for a job at left tackle at main camp.
“I think one of the main problems was how I went out,” Federkeil said Monday at McMahon Stadium. “It wasn’t on my terms. It’s just not a good way to go out, having an injury and knowing you have the potential for more and it’s just done.”
Federkeil played 28 regular-season games, started three and also started in a wild-card playoff game in 2009, during his four seasons with the Colts. The Medicine Hat High School product earned a Super Bowl ring in 2007.
He’d played on the Dinos defensive line and, in 2005, was a finalist for the J.P. Metras Trophy that goes to the top lineman in Canadian university football.
Federkeil was selected in the first round of the CFL draft by the Argos in 2006, but signed with the Colts as a free agent that year, and switched to the offensive line.
Federkeil had suffered a concussion during his university career and then experienced a couple more with the Colts when he was on the field for kickoff returns. Debilitating headaches forced him out of the game.
“At that point, with the symptoms I was having, the decision was fairly easy from a physical point of view,” he said.
Federkeil says it was 14 months before he could return to the gym, but he’s been symptom free for two years. He consulted a doctor this year about a return to professional football and was given the all-clear.
“The main thing with concussions is you have to be honest with yourself,” he said. “I’ve known some guys who have come back before they’re symptom-free and those are the guys who usually get reinjured right away.
“The biggest concern was definitely reinjuring, or if I’d actually healed up even though I felt good. All it takes is one hit. So far, it’s been good. There’s been no side effects. Nothing to worry about right now.”
Federkeil played right tackle for the Colts, but is lining up on the left side at Stampeders camp. The 29-year-old is a physical specimen at 6 foot 6 and a muscular 300 pounds.
“He’s a big man. He doesn’t look like he weighs 300 pounds,” offensive line coach Mike Gibson observed. “He’s got long arms. He knows how to bend his knees. He’s a talented individual.
“You can tell he’s played in the NFL. He’s well-coached.”
Upon learning of Federkeil’s wish to play football again, Calgary traded non-import linebacker Akwasi Antwi to Toronto for his rights in April.
That transaction was necessary for Federkeil’s comeback. He and his wife, Shannon, have a five-month old daughter.
“The Stampeders were really the only choice,” Federkeil said. “I just had a little girl. I wasn’t about to leave town and leave them behind. I doubt I would have went somewhere and took them with me. It wasn’t really feasible.”
Federkeil signed a three-year contract with Calgary. He believes he can manage the risk of further concussions.
“Playing offensive line, I think the risk level is low,” he said. “I’ve never had any concussion symptoms playing offensive line. I’ve had some playing defensive line. The last two major concussions were both on kickoff returns, so you will never see me on kickoff return.”
Federkeil admits it hasn’t been easy shaking off the rust of three years without a practice or game.
“I’d like to get back to where I was before just in terms of execution,” he said.
“I really think the biggest thing right now is I need to get to the point where the game slows down. I know some guys have said I move good, I move quick, but mentally things are still happening fast for me.
“When I get to the point where I can see stuff and it slows down, then it makes it a lot more fun.”