It was slightly more than two years ago that Jeremiah Masoli had been demoted to the practice roster, ranking no higher than fourth among Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterbacks.
In that 2015 season, he wasn’t even in uniform for the first dozen games and saw action in only the final week of the schedule.
But, as the undisputed and newly-signed leader of the 2018 offence said Thursday, that was the most significant step on his journey to signing a two-year, starter money, contract this week, precipitating Zach Collaros’s departure for the flatlands.
Rather than accepting practice-roster duties, he could have become a free agent but then, like this week, he passed on the open market.
“I didn’t have a lot going on besides that,” he recalled Thursday. “I wasn’t expecting to be on that list, so whenever you get put in a position like that, it’s like, ‘How much do you really like the game at this point in your life?’ You’re not young anymore, you’re not in college.
“Now looking back on it, I can kind of laugh on it. But it was one of the best experiences for me: the value of being put down there and just kind of having a life reality check. Is this really for me, or no? All those kinds of questions run through your mind. It was just a gut check of a ‘heck yes’ and I just wanted to get to work and prove that I could be that starting quarterback and that I had it within me.
“I felt like that from that point on I was able to really grasp what my coaches were trying to tell me.”
Two weeks later, after beating Toronto in the Eastern Semi-Final, he came within a whisker of sending the Ticats to their third straight Grey Cup game, throwing for a career-best 349 yards and two touchdowns in a late-game loss to Ottawa.
Although the injured Collaros returned partway through the following season to reclaim the reins that had passed, clearly temporarily, to Masoli it was “probably that game right there that kind of gave me the chip on my shoulder back. That I can hang with anybody and we can beat anybody on a given day.”
It was, as is all experience, the manifestation of hard-learned lessons but something else was going on, of which Masoli was likely unaware. His teammates and coaches were taking notice of how committed he was to improvement: most notably the hour he spent on the field doing drills after every practice, while often showing a new Ticat the CFL ropes.
“He’s gone through trying times, like most of us have,” Kent Austin said Thursday, “and he’s persevered. He’s grown and matured to be a real pro, and to gain trustworthiness with his organization and his teammates.”
Fortified with that inner-sanctum support, Masoli is on top of the depth chart now, with no real pyramid underneath him until (and if) Johnny Manziel is signed, or the Ticats go get an inexpensive backup with CFL experience. Austin says the front office is analyzing all that right now.
Masoli, meanwhile, concedes that coming into a season as the declared No. 1 feels different than in the past and he’s looking forward to continuing the momentum of 2017’s final 10 games with those Ticats who return. One of them, Jones let slip, will be Speedy Banks, whose re-signing will be announced Friday.
While Masoli took supreme advantage of Jones making the Labour Day quarterback change primarily to shake up the team, there is still the shadow cast by Manziel, whom Austin as much as said will receive the contract offer required to keep him on the Tiger-Cats’ negotiation list.
Like other distractions, just Masoli shrugged that one off.
“If our coaches feel like he’s a good fit for our team, I’m going to welcome him with open arms,” he said. “My life has always been about competition, on every team I’ve ever been on, so I’m not really worried about any competition at all.
“I don’t know the guy, but whatever I can do as a quarterback to help him adjust to the CFL, I’ll do.”
What he do to can help Manziel most as a person, he’s already done: set an example by channelling his energy into becoming a straight-ahead, hardworking professional.
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