Preston Huggins worked his last shift at Tim Hortons two days before the start of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp. He’s hoping it’s the last one he has to take.
The 23-year-old has been employed by the iconic coffee chain for more than eight years, working through high school and university in his hometown of London, Ontario. The only child of a single mom — his father left when he was eight — Huggins balanced school, work and football out of necessity.
“It was tough. My mom lost her job just as I was going to university so I went back to high school for an extra year so that I could help out more and support myself the best I could,” he said.
He continued to work during his four years at Western University where he played in 25 games over four seasons as a linebacker, amassing 74.5 tackles and earning an OUA first-team nod last year. He admits the juggling act was exhausting at times but valuable.
“You have to manage your time. It teaches you discipline and you have to grow up a little quicker than some of the other kids,” Huggins said. “It’s completely manageable if you have a good head on your shoulders.”
Plus, there was the free food — at least for awhile.
“When you’re 15 you eat a lot of doughnuts but then you realize that maybe you shouldn’t be eating Boston cream’s every day,” Huggins laughs. “You just kind of grow out of the doughnut-eating phase.”
Huggins was one of four linebackers selected by the Ticats in the 2015 Canadian Draft last March, joining a solid group that already includes fellow nationals Frederic Plesius and Beau Landry. But in his first conversation with Ticats general manager and head coach Kent Austin, Huggins was told to prepare for a conversion to fullback.
He spent the first few days of training camp with the linebackers wearing No. 51 before putting on a white jersey, joining the offence and changing to No. 27 on Wednesday. More juggling.
“I knew it was going to happen. There are so many great guys at linebacker it was wasn’t hard to see what my role could be on this team,” Huggins said. “If it helps me make this team, I’m all for it.”
The Ticats are thin at fullback, with just second-year man C.O. Prime on the roster. Prime was another defensive convert — he played linebacker in college — and is helping Huggins with the transition. The two did extra on-field work with offensive line coach Allen Rudolph earlier this week.
“C.O. knows what I’m going through and he’s helping me avoid the mistakes he made,” Huggins said. “He’s been great.”
On Monday, Huggins will play his first game as a Ticat, contributing solely on special teams for now. The game will played at Tim Hortons Field and his practice jersey has the company logo sewn on his chest. He’s essentially traded one Timmy’s work shirt for another.
“I can’t get away from Tim Hortons,” he laughs. “But I’d rather work here.”