CFL vets fighting for their future at Ticats mini-camp

While the vast majority of players at Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ mini-camp this week are trying to launch their CFL careers, for a select few it is an opportunity for resurrection.

Defensive back Geoff Tisdale, kicker Brett Maher and offensive lineman Scott Mitchell have varying degrees of experience in the league but are now, for one reason or another, looking for work. And so they find themselves surrounded by wide-eyed rookies – 45 of the 67 invitees are new to the CFL – trying to demonstrate they can still contribute.

The 31-year-old Tisdale started his CFL career with the Ticats in 2008, then left for a big-money free agent deal in Calgary after the 2010 season. He returned to Hamilton in 2012, then spent two seasons in Montreal before playing three games with Saskatchewan last year. He has 115 career starts; no one else in town this week has more than 30.

As he stood just outside the Ticats’ well-appointed dressing room in the still-has-the-new-car-smell Tim Hortons Field, Tisdale couldn’t help but marvel at how much things have changed from his old digs at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

“I was telling guys, I was here when the locker room was the same size as the bathroom,” Tisdale laughed.

Brett Maher looked to have established himself as a legitimate CFL kicker after a solid first season with Ottawa in 2014, where he kicked the game-winner to give the Redblacks their inaugural win in week three. But a torn labrum in his kicking hip was discovered just before training camp last season, leaving him in need of surgery and six months of rehab.

“It was tough watching last year knowing I’d been there before,” Maher said. “It’s not like I’ve played my 10 or 12 years and can be happy to just walk away.”

For Scott Mitchell, there was a time when just walking felt like an accomplishment. The second-overall draft pick in 2011, Mitchell suffered a devastating knee injury during training camp just before his third season in Edmonton. Doctors told him he shouldn’t try to play again, that his career was over.

He kept at it. He signed with Toronto before the 2014 season, failed his physical and was released. He failed a physical in Montreal. And in Ottawa. Since then, the Argos have twice signed him in moments of desperation, asking him to play on less than a week’s notice. Now he’s back on the street looking for full-time CFL job.

“If I didn’t have the ability or the potential, there’d be no way I would still be here,” Mitchell said. “It’s on me to persevere and show these coaches that I’m healthy enough to contribute not just today but through an entire season.”

All three players have options outside of football. Tisdale’s father owns a construction business back home in California and the 31-year-old spent part of the winter doing home renovations. Maher has a math degree from Nebraska and comes from a family of teachers. Mitchell received his degree is sports management from Rice and has investigated coaching options.

And though it’s unspoken, all three must realize this could be their last chance. There’s no other reason for a CFL veteran to accept an invite – without a contract – to a mini-camp chock-full of first-year players who are still baffled by the waggle and whole one-yard-off-the-ball thing.

But Tisdale, like the others, has elected to adopt a the-glass-is-half-full attitude, sharing his knowledge with his new, inexperienced teammates and trying to enjoy the experience – no matter how long it lasts.

“I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you’re 30 but I don’t feel like that,” Tisdale said. “I can still play with the best of them and I love this game. Man, I love playing football.

“So I’ll keep playing until I can’t stand up no more.”

Notes: weather at Tim Hortons Field was cool, wet and breezy on Thursday but head coach Kent Austin was still pleased by what he saw. “It was pretty crisp. It’s still different for a lot of these guys and I thought it was a good day,” Austin said. “We’re trying to give them just enough to test their ability to think but not so much that they can’t play fast so we can get a proper evaluation.”… quarterback Zach Collaros was not on the field Tuesday as he continues with his rehab from a torn ACL. “He’ll have whatever role he wants. He’s focusing on his rehab and he’ll be involved but we’re not asking for his involvement necessarily,” Austin said. “He’s got a lot on his plate but he knows what we’re doing.”… Austin confirmed the hiring of new offensive line coach Mike Markuson, who replaces the departed Allen Rudolph. “I coached with him two years at Ole Miss and he’s a really good fundamental coach,” Austin said of Markuson. “He’s a really good man and he was a really close friend of mine on that staff.”… with the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Tommy Condell earlier this month, Austin will handle the job himself this week. “The search is ongoing. It’s narrowed down and I feel like we have a couple of potential candidates,” he said. “I want to make a quick decision but not a rash decision.”… the Ticats announced the signing of international free agent linebacker Larry Dean and offensive lineman Brandon Washington. Dean has played in 61 games with the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL while Washington spent three seasons with the St. Louis Rams.