Maher making the most of it

Before each game, Brett Maher wraps a strip of white athletic tape around his right wrist and prints the letters “M.H.” on it in black marker. Then he adds a smiley face.

His daughter Mayla just turned two, and wearing her initials – he also places another sliver of tape around his ring finger as a makeshift wedding band – allows Maher to keep perspective when dealing with the pressure of his role as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker. He finds himself glancing at it often on the sidelines.

“It brings me back down to earth and puts a smile on my face, ” Maher said. “Gives me a reminder of some of the bigger things in life.”

It seems to be working.

Maher has been mostly outstanding in his first season with the Ticats, hitting on 76.9 per cent of his field goals – including a 56-yarder among his five makes in last week’s win over Montreal – and leading the league in punting distance. It’s been an impressive display of accuracy and power for a guy who struggled with both in his one season with the Ottawa Redblacks in 2014.

“The difference is overwhelmingly due to health, or an improvement in my strength due to health, ” Maher said. “There’s no question.”

Maher was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his kicking hip just before his second campaign in Ottawa was set to begin, but figures the injury had been affecting his kicking stroke for quite some time. There was no pain – just a slow decrease in his usual power.

But following surgery and months of rehab – Maher was released by Ottawa after the team deemed it a nonfootball injury – the 24-year-old is feeling both healthy and confident. He won an extended kicking contest in the Ticats’ pre-season largely on the strength of his ability to perform all three duties – field goals, punting, kick offs – with good results.

Maher handled a similar workload during his junior and senior years at Nebraska – that’s rare for a big-time NCAA school – and as a result doesn’t consider himself a specialist who is saddled with other jobs in the CFL. “I didn’t feel like I had to learn something, then get thrown into a game situation that I hadn’t been in before, ” he said. “I think of myself as a guy who can be a weapon doing all of it.”

It’s worth noting that Maher is – for the moment, anyway – outperforming the man he replaced. Former Hamilton kicker Justin Medlock, who signed a big-money free-agent deal with the Bombers in the off-season, trails Maher in field goal percentage (76.9 to 66.7) and average yards per punt (50.2 to 44.6), while enjoying a slight edge in average kickoff yards (64.9 to 64.4).

Maher signed just a one year deal with the Ticats before the season and needs to maintain his solid performance if he hopes to cash in. But that’s the type of thinking he needs to drive from his mind on game day. Hence the tape and the initials.

“It’s nice to be back. The team’s been great and now I have all the injury stuff behind me and have shown I can come back from it,” Maher said. “Hopefully. I have a long career ahead.”

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