Canadian Football League

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rookie Canadian Football League Kickers

They were around for so long you half expected archeologists to find their images scratched on cave walls. When Montreal Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp watched Lui Passaglia, Bob Cameron and Terry Baker at play he jokingly dubbed them "the dinosaurs."
Well, that Jurassic period of Canadian Football League kicking has come to an end. Tonight in Montreal, the 2005 regular season begins and it marks the dawn of a new era, a time of opportunity and uncertainty.
Four teams will start the year with unproved kickers. One, the Calgary Stampeders, will feature a pair of rookies, one punting, one place kicking. Montreal will go a step further and use a rookie import for both jobs. As for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, they're resting their hopes at the feet of Jamie Boreham, a risky proposition considering his erratic efforts of a year ago. Then there's the terminally tormented Ottawa Renegades, who have devoured kickers at a velociraptor-like rate.
The Renegades have lost kickers to the National Football League (Lawrence Tynes, Shaun Suisham), to illness (Sandro Sciortino) and were once advised that they should sign Lynsey Bennett, a former Miss Canada winner who kicked at Ottawa's Glebe Collegiate Institute. The Renegades place-kicker is Matt Kellett, who couldn't establish himself in previous CFL stopovers and still has double vision despite corrective eye surgery.

"Other than quarterback, you can make a compelling argument that the kicker is the most important position on the field," former Renegades GM Eric Tillman, now a Sportsnet commentator, said. "You absolutely have to have a good one to be successful in the CFL."
Unfortunately for Calgary, Montreal, Hamilton and Ottawa, they absolutely don't know what they've got -- game-breakers or heart-breakers. One CFL source looked at the names of the people who will be hoofing the ball and remarked: "There are still a few reliable guys -- Noel Prefontaine, Sean Fleming, Paul McCallum, Troy Westwood [now 38]. But we're in a vacuum right now when it comes to young Canadian kickers."
Again, you can thank the dinosaurs for that.
When Bernie Ruoff got hurt, Paul Osbaldiston moved in and took care of the Ticats' kicking for 17 years. Baker kicked for 16 years with four teams. Cameron did 23 years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Passaglia did 25 with the B.C. Lions. Those men, and others such as Dave Ridgway, Dave Cutler and Hank Ilesic, turned aside countless challengers who never got a chance to show what they could do. By sticking with the vets, the CFL likely squashed a generation of aspiring kickers.
"When the older kickers all retired at the same time there weren't many Canadians with experience" Popp said. "American kickers come from the NFL, NFL Europe, colleges. There are more choices."
Mike McCarthy, a former CFL GM who now scouts for the San Diego Chargers, believes there could be as many as three Americans kicking in Canada at some point this season because if winning is the priority, and it always is in the pro ranks, then having the best player transcends nationality and tradition.
"Canadian kids don't get to kick as much as U.S. kids," McCarthy said. "Take a look at U.S. 1-A [university] players. They're now kicking in 12 games a season. If they're on a good team they have a conference championship, maybe a Bowl game then spring football. Even in high school, they're playing 14, 15 games depending on what state they're in."
Passaglia, the Lions' director of community relations, wonders if CFL teams want another player declared a designated import so that an American can be used at the kicking position. When Ottawa had Tynes, it named him as its second DI. Most teams use their second DI for a return specialist or special teams player. It's not likely the CFL Players' Association would be keen on surrendering another Canadian job on a ratio that currently sits at 19 Canadians, 18 Americans and three quarterbacks of any nationality.
Ironically, whatever the future holds depends on how the young kickers do this season. If they succeed, all's well. If they fail then the worrying begins and more coaches will look to an American solution.
"It'll be interesting to see what the league does if there aren't enough Canadian kickers to go around," Passaglia said. "My feeling is you have to be patient. A lot of us didn't make a huge impact right away but the coaches stuck with us. Now we've got four or five guys bringing new blood to the position and we'll have to watch how they do."
Added McCarthy: "When Lui, Osbaldiston and Ridgway played, kids tried to be like them. I don't know if that's there now. The best kicker we've got is Mike Vanderjagt and he's down south."
So, too, are fellow Canadians Mitch Berger, Steve Christie and Suisham, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Suisham may end up with the Renegades later this season, but by then who knows what Ottawa will have endured.
The season begins. Hopes soar. The question is: Will it be shanked or will it soar through the uprights?
2005 CFL kickers
Toronto Argonauts: Noel Prefontaine, punter and place-kicker.
Montreal Alouettes: Damon Duval, punter/place-kicker.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Jamie Boreham, punter/place-kicker.
Ottawa Renegades: Pat Fleming punter, Matt Kellett place-kicker.
B.C. Lions: Duncan O'Mahony, punter/place-kicker.
Edmonton Eskimos: Sean Fleming, punter/place-kicker.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Paul McCallum, punter/place-kicker.
Calgary Stampeders: Burke Dales punter, Sandro DeAngelis kicker.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Jon Ryan punter, Troy Westwood place-kicker


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