Andy Fantuz needs to be good this year, for lots of reasons.
First and foremost, he remains one of the league’s pre-eminent receivers — with or without his Canadian birth certificate — and has spent the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ first two games reminding everybody just how dominant he can be.
He leads the team with 156 yards and is third in the CFL with 17 catches, despite having played in one less game than the two players ahead of him.
He credits the early-season production to a revamped training regimen, one that emphasized improved cardiovascular endurance — he did more running — along with his usual football-specific work. He lifted fewer weights and rested more.
“I think you get smarter about it. You can’t go hard every day and expect to keep getting results. You have to take care of your body,” he says. “I’m down a few pounds but I feel overall in better shape.”
He’s 31 now and into his 10th CFL season. Injuries have been an issue the last couple of years — he’s missed 12 games — and so he’s also changed diet, something that’s dovetailed nicely with married life, home ownership and the other trappings of adulthood.
“I knew I had to be a better player. We’ve fallen short the last two years and I felt I had a lot of room for improvement personally,” Fantuz said. “I’m settled at home, eating better, being more low-key. There’s more routine, less shenanigans.”
Fantuz has also developed into a leader in the locker-room and was recently elected as a captain by his teammates for the second straight season. Though he’s not a rah-rah guy, Fantuz has been willing to share his knowledge with younger players.
“My goal as a leader is to get everybody to be a leader. When you go from having just a few leaders to having a team full of them, that’s when you know you’re getting to the next level,” Fantuz said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things and I try and lead by example.”
There is also personal motivation for Fantuz to perform at a high level in 2015. He’s in the final year of the lucrative contract he signed before the 2012 season and is slated to become a free agent this winter.
Given the frenzy that surrounded his departure from Saskatchewan, it’s hardly surprising that Fantuz doesn’t seem particularly interested in talking about his future at this point.
“I don’t think about that stuff. I’m just trying to play the best I can and help this team win,” he said. “All that can be dealt with later.”
Fantuz has been always been exceptional at finding the open spaces on the field, an instinctive ability to in the right spot at the right moment. Age has yet to rob him of his physical tools — his 6-foot-4 frame and massive hands will help him ward off the passing of time better than most — and he seems to understand the necessary level of off-field commitment.
“It all ties in together,” he said. “I feel like I can be at the top of my game.
“That’s all that matters.”