Ticats open training camp: ‘Football is actually fun’

Simoni Lawrence took the field Sunday for the opening session of Ticats training camp decked out head-to-toe in new Adidas gear, a mostly black ensemble that featured shoes, socks, shorts and jersey from the league’s new apparel provider.

Even his underwear bore the three stripes logo — a fact he was more than willing to show off with just the slightest provocation.

“The defence, we always come out like it’s the first day of school looking fresh,” Lawrence laughed. “It’s not like back in the day when your mom could only get you one outfit.”

There is an undeniable buzz that accompanies the start of a new CFL campaign, a palpable excitement as players and coaches finally get back to football after the league’s long and sometimes tedious off-season.

There were also about 100 fans in the stands at Ron Joyce Stadium on the campus of McMaster University, soaking up the sunshine getting their first look at the 2016 edition of the Ticats.

There were lots of familiar Ticat faces — there’s Peter Dyakowski back for a ninth season, hey, look, it’s Luke Tasker — but plenty of new ones as well. Of the 84 players on the roster at the moment, 36 are new to the league, the Ticats or both. There are also four guys with the surname “Davis.”

But much of the attention on day one was focussed on one player who wasn’t on the field and another who is trying desperately to get back on it. All-world return man Brandon Banks was a no-show after remaining at home to deal with a “family issue,” while quarterback Zach Collaros is still rehabbing from torn knee ligaments suffered last season.

Head coach Kent Austin said there’s no timetable for Banks’ return, but emphasized there’s nothing nefarious afoot — this isn’t a holdout or a contract dispute or some other roadblock that would keep Banks out for an extended time.

“Hopefully, (he’ll be back) pretty soon, but we’re not pushing it because we’re sensitive to the situation,” Austin said. “It truly is a family issue, but I’m not at liberty to share anything about that.”

Collaros’ schedule is just as vague. He did some throwing drills and some light running on Sunday, but steered clear of the team sessions as Jeremiah Masoli and Jeff Mathews — who are trying to earn the job of interim starter — split reps with the first-string offence.

“Things are going really well. I’m at a good pace to be back, right where I’m supposed to be. We’re just taking it day-by-day, I don’t think there’s a timetable,” Collaros said. “Being out there with everybody, your sense of urgency picks up. At the same time, I have to be smart and do what’s best, not only for me, but for the team.”

Still, it’s clear that both Austin and Collaros have a game circled on the calendar, though whether it’s the same one remains unclear. Neither seemed inclined to set expectations, as this fun exchange with Austin shows.

“Do you have a date in your head as to when he might return?” a reporter asked.

“I might, I might, I might …,” he responded.

“Do you?” came the follow-up that never got finished.


Even that exchange — Austin does not, does not, does not like to talk about injuries — was tempered with good humour, another side benefit of the first day back. For football lifers like Austin, getting back to business is a bit like Christmas Day.

That’s probably a better analogy than the educational one, as Lawrence pointed out.

“It’s not really like the first day of school,” he said. “Football is actually fun.”

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