Mike Labinjo at Michigan State.

There’s another story of a former football player dead all too young. This time, it’s former Michigan State, NFL and CFL defensive lineman and linebacker Mike Labinjo. Former Michigan State teammate Little John Flowers appears to have broken the news Saturday morning, adding that Labinjo died in his sleep, and Labinjo’s former CFL team, the Calgary Stampeders (he played with them from 2007-11), confirmed the news with a statement later Saturday:

It is with great sadness the Stampeders learn of the death of alumnus Mike Labinjo. He was 38.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Mike’s death,” said Stampeders president and general manager John Hufnagel. “He was a big man with a big personality to match and he was a key part of our Grey Cup championship team in 2008. The team offers its condolences to Mike’s family and friends.”

…An alumnus of Michigan State University, Labinjo was part of the Stamps’ Grey Cup-winning team in 2008 and was a standout in the West final victory over the BC Lions that year, recording three sacks and a forced fumble and making two touchdown-saving stops as part of a critical goal-line stand.

He followed up that performance with three tackles, a sack and three knockdowns in the Stamps’ Grey Cup victory over Montreal.

Labinjo, a Toronto native, played for Michigan State from 2000-03, and he was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and the team’s defensive MVP in his senior year. He led the Spartans in sacks in 2001 and tied for the team lead in interceptions in 2003, and remains ninth in team history in tackles for a loss with 35. While he went undrafted in the 2004 NFL draft, he spent three years in that league with the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins, and played in 10 NFL games, including the Eagles’ 2004 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

Labinjo then went north to join the Stampeders, who had selected him in the third round of the 2003 CFL draft. He posted 61 defensive tackles (with nine tackles for loss), seven special-teams tackles, six sacks, seven knockdowns and two fumble recoveries in his years with them. As per the Stampeders’ statement, he remained in Calgary after his playing career, working at Solengo Capital and FirstService Residential. There are plenty of tweets in tribute to him from former teammates, opponents, fans, executives, and journalists:


Our thoughts go out to Mike’s friends and family.

[Calgary Stampeders; photo via Little John Flowers on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.