Jeremiah Masoli leans on the concrete wall outside the Ticat dressing room at McMaster University and then does something weird. He smiles.
Over the next several minutes, he is friendly and engaging, answering tough questions in an honest and thoughtful manner while making frequent eye contact. He seems like an entirely different person from the guarded, sometimes surly player of the last couple of seasons.
Mind you, this is not entirely Masoli’s fault. His interactions with the press over the years have been almost entirely negative, owing in part to his own troubled past — he spent three months in jail for theft while in high school and was kicked out of the University of Oregon for a variety of transgressions — and the media’s unrelenting focus on what he readily refers to as mistakes. The first question ever posed by The Spectator was about those missteps and he’s been guarded ever since.
Leaning against that cool wall, Masoli discusses his flaws as a player and what he needs to do to earn the back up job again this season with remarkable bluntness.
“Decision-making is something I can improve,” he says. “I have to be real honest with myself about what I need to work on.”
Masoli began last season as the No. 2 quarterback behind Zach Collaros, beating out incumbent Dan LeFevour with a strong pre-season performance. He was the first man up after Collaros went down after taking a vicious hit to the head in Week 2 against Edmonton and nearly engineered a come-from-behind win.
But Masoli committed two fourth-quarter turnovers and was replaced by LeFevour as the Ticats fell 28-24. The following week, Masoli made his first career start against Calgary but completed just nine-of-19 passes for 107 yards and an interception before being replaced by LeFevour.
“I was frustrated by my performance in those two games. There were a couple of situations where I was trying to be a little greedy,” Masoli said. “You can’t do that at this level and I had to learn the hard way.”
Masoli says he was constantly looking to make the big play and, it should be said, with some success. He had a 47-yard completion to Luke Tasker and a 25-yard run against the Eskimos. But his penchant for turnovers and aggressive style — he bypassed easy throws in favour of taking shots downfield — eventually earned him a spot on the bench.
“It’s not that I didn’t trust the system but it’s kind of in my personality to try and go and get it,” Masoli said. “At the same time, I’ve learned that I have to run the offence, get first downs. That’s what wins games.”
LeFevour, who tore his ACL in August, signed with Montreal as a free agent and the Ticats elected not to bring back Stephen McGee, who finished 2014 as the No. 2 behind Collaros. That leaves Masoli, second-year man Jacory Harris and rookie Jeff Mathews competing for the backup job.
“Individually, I don’t really have goals for myself and I can’t worry about who is No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3,” Masoli said. “I just want us to win games.”
It turns out Masoli hasn’t changed. A quiet chat with teammates or members of the Ticats’ organization about this supposedly sudden shift yields an impressive array of quizzical glances. He’s always been seen as a decent, friendly guy. He’s just letting a little bit more of it show.
He’s not sure why, but points to a major change in his life this off-season.
“Getting married was a big step and it changed my mindset a little bit,” Masoli said. “It adds a little motivation.”
Marriage is the ultimate show of faith and the Ticats have shown some, too. Despite his stumbles last season, Masoli is still here. That hasn’t always been his experience.
“I kind of feel like this is home,” he says, smiling again. “Maybe that’s it.”