With mini-camp done, Ticats kicking game still in a state of flux

How’s this for a rookie CFL mistake: American kicker Cody Mandell showed up for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats spring mini-camp this week without a sweater.

Predictably, the Louisiana native was cold, especially when temperatures dipped into the single digits on two of the last three days. Thankfully, a Ticat equipment staffer took pity and loaned him some warm duds.

“It was a little chilly, a little nippy. It wasn’t fun but I can get used to it,” said Mandell with a chuckle. “They told us to pack light so I did.”

Such is the transient nature of the professional kicker. Mandell was one of four brought in this week and the only one without CFL experience. Ray Early – who sat out Thursday’s session with a minor injury – was Saskatchewan’s punter last season, while Brett Maher was Ottawa’s go-to guy in 2014. Delbert Alavrado kicked for Hamilton in the 2013 pre-season followed by stints with Montreal and Ottawa.

Alvarado has been around long enough to develop an understanding of the league’s roster rules, which limit the number of American players – and to realize that how Hamilton ultimately decides to juggle their Canadian content could impact his future.

“If you’re not above and beyond performance-wise, teams will look for Canadians to step in especially if they need depth at another American position,” Alvarado said. “You have to hope it all falls into place.”

The Ticats are on the hunt for a new kicker after allowing Justin Medlock to leave for Winnipeg via free agency (Hamilton never extended him a formal contract offer.) Medlock had two stellar seasons in his second stint with the Black and Gold and is currently the most accurate kicker in CFL history with at least 150 attempts (87.4 per cent.)

Medlock also mastered the blustery winds at Tim Hortons Field – which were on full display this week.

“It’s a small fraternity and we all know each other. I talk to Justin once every two weeks or so, just picking his brain,” Alvarado said. “He’s had a lot of success in this league and in this stadium.”

While the first two days of on-field workouts featured the occasional punting drill, Thursday saw the three healthy kickers attempting long field goals both with and against a stiff 25 km/h breeze. Adding to the challenge: they were working with a new snapper, an unfamiliar holder and had maybe half a dozen kicks to show their stuff.

“That one moment can be why you’re here or why you’re not – that’s the reality,” Alvarado said. “And that’s how it’s going to be during the season – you don’t get to choose the circumstances under which you have to hit the game winner.”

The Ticats still don’t have a kicker under contract. Early, Maher and Alvarado were all non-roster invitees to mini-camp while Mandell is currently on team’s negotiation list, meaning he can’t be signed by another team.

“We’re still evaluating but we have a much better idea now,” Austin said. “But we’re still in that process.”

The Ticats are expected to continue working out kickers and may take a look at UBC’s Quinn van Gylswyk, a highly-rated prospect who is eligible for the CFL Draft next May. One way or another, Hamilton will likely bring at least three kickers to training camp to battle for the job.

Mandell is hoping to be one of them and he’s already got a plan for coping with the elements.

“If I come back, I’ll remember to bring a nice big suitcase full of clothes,” he said.

Notes: The Ticats currently have 84 players on the roster, there were 31 non-roster invitees to mini-camp and the team must be down to 77 players (75 plus two Canadian non-counters) by Sunday. Tough odds.