At least somebody else is paying for the flight this time.
Last March, receiver Tim Smith spent $400 of his own money to fly from his home in Virginia to Atlanta so he could take part in a Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ free agent camp. He’d been out of football for over a year and was looking for any opportunity to stay in the game. His performance was good enough to earn him a contract and an invite to Hamilton’s training camp.
With a number of veterans ahead of him, however, Smith still faced long odds. But after a series of injuries — the Ticats have lost four receivers so far this month — Smith heads to Winnipeg for Friday’s final pre-season game with an opportunity to earn a roster spot to start the season. He’ll start in the slot in place of the injured Luke Tasker.
“If you have a dream, you have to chase it,” Smith said. “Just to have an opportunity is great.”
Smith is one of several players with something to prove against the Bombers. With injuries a major concern, the Ticats have left six probable defensive starters back in Hamilton, including linebackers Simoni Lawrence and Taylor Reed, safety Craig Butler and defensive tackle Ted Laurent.
That means Canadians like Frederic Plesius and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, who will get the start at middle linebacker and defensive end respectively, will get the chance to show they deserve to play a larger role once the regular season begins on June 26.
One player whose position in the pecking order is clearly established is quarterback Zach Collaros, who gets the start against Winnipeg after sitting out the pre-season win over Ottawa on June 8.
Collaros looks far more comfortable in his second season in the offensive system designed by head coach Kent Austin and offensive coordinator Tommy Condell.
“Last year my head was just spinning so it was a little more crazy for me,” Collaros said. “I want to be able to identify what they’re doing on defence, make quick decisions and get the football out of my hands.”
Fellow quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will also see some playing time and needs a strong performance to have any chance of earning the back-up job.
In fact, Masoli may be battling for the No. 3 spot: Jeff Mathews, who played so well against the Redblacks, isn’t on the trip — a sign he may have already been tapped as Collaros’ understudy.
While winning is only the goal once the regular season starts, exhibition contests inevitably feature coaches and players with differing agendas. Austin wants to get through the game without injury, Collaros wants to get ready for when the games really count and Smith wants to show he deserves a job.
“I don’t think saying ‘it doesn’t matter’ is the right thing. Everybody wanted to get something out of it,” Collaros said. “Obviously you want to win every game but you really want to make sure you’re ready for week one.”
Smith is hoping to be there, especially after his long, unintentional hiatus from the game.
“I waited around for the NFL last year and got some calls but this year I didn’t want to play the waiting game,” Smith said. “All you ever want is a chance.”