It’s Monday night at 11:57 p.m. and Zach Collaros is still playing football.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ quarterback has already dispatched the Toronto Argonauts but he’s still running around the turf at Tim Hortons Field in his bare feet with a trio of kids, including the two young sons of offensive coordinator, Tommy Condell.
“I didn’t really care what time it was, I still had that adrenaline rush going,” said Collaros this week. “And it’s fun to make kids smile.”
There’s plenty of positive vibes around this team these days. Collaros and the Ticats have won of back-to-back games and three of their last four — not to mention eight straight at home dating back to last season. Hamilton will play eight of their last 13 games in the friendly confines of Tim Hortons Field, including Sunday’s match up against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
“I think the guys feel good and you can definitely feel a bit of energy around here,” Collaros said. “It’s a good feeling to be playing in front of our fans.”
Which isn’t to say everything is perfect.
The Ticats will be without running back C.J. Gable and Canadian receiver Andy Fantuz, both of whom suffered arm injuries against the Argos. The pair was added to the six-game injured list this week and expected to be out for an extended period.
The team may also be missing starting safety Craig Butler, who sat out a couple of days of practice, though head coach Kent Austin refused to rule him out for Sunday’s tilt. Still, there will be changes: Ray Holley will take over for Gable, Matt Coates steps in for Fantuz and Mike Daly would start if Butler can’t go.
“We expect the guys that we have to perform well and they understand that,” Austin said. “We have faith in them. That’s why they are on the team.”
The Bombers are 3-3 but have injury issues of their own and don’t seem to be having nearly as much fun as the Ticats. Leading receiver Nick Moore missed Friday’s practice in Winnipeg, an on-field session that featured not one but two scraps between offensive and defensive linemen.
Winnipeg wasn’t likely to show up in a good mood anyway. The Ticats laid the wood to them in a July 2 match up that saw the Bombers all but collapse after quarterback Drew Willy was knocked from the game in the second quarter. When Willy left, Hamilton led 10-7: 11 minutes later it was 38-7 and the Ticats won 52-26.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go in there and try to make a statement,” Willy said this week.
Ticats’ linebacker Simoni Lawrence says he expects Winnipeg to be looking to avenge their previous loss and pointed out the Bombers followed up their poor performance with a hard-fought win over Montreal.
“Teams that lose games like that, the good ones come back and play better,” Lawrence said. “We can’t come in here thinking we’re going to get the same team we beat.”
Like Collaros, Lawrence seems to have found the right balance between fun-loving exuberance and game-time intensity. They have different personalties — Lawrence is far more vocal in his leadership style — but share a similar approach: confidence without pretence.
“It’s just understood by everyone: just because you’re a good football player doesn’t mean you have to rub it everybody’s face,” Lawrence said. “Just be a normal person.”
Collaros’ impromptu game on Monday night finally came to an end when stadium staff began shutting off the lights and Condell came to collect his kids. It’s not how his contests at Tim Hortons Field usually wrap up — but the result was the same.
“We had a good time,” Collaros said, laughing. “And my team won.”