Masoli steps aside to make room for Collaros

There are two easy narratives available to Jeremiah Masoli.

The first is that his upcoming demotion to second string quarterback is unfair, that by leading the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a 3-3 record so far this season — not to mention a playoff win last year — he’s earned the right to hang on to the job.

The second is to be deferential, to acknowledge what pretty much everyone believed to be true: that he was always a placeholder until Zach Collaros returned from a torn ACL.

But Masoli rejects both storylines because both are true, in a way. And both are wrong, too.

“I don’t need some philosophical answer. I’m playing football and the coaches are making the decisions and that’s it,” Masoli said. “I don’t see the advantage in talking about any of these things. It’s not about me, it’s about our team.”

This has been the 27-year-old’s mentality dating back to early last season when, after coming in to training camp as the No. 2 quarterback behind Collaros, Masoli saw his stock plummet. He spent time on the practice roster and had the option of moving on.

Instead, he stayed and continued to put in the work — most of it after practice with anyone who was willing to stay on the field to catch balls. By the end of the season, after injuries and ineptitude had wiped out the three quarterbacks ahead of him, Masoli was the starter come playoff time.

“Those questions have already been answered,” said head coach Kent Austin. “He does all the things as a pro that you want him to do.”

Masoli re-signed with the Ticats in the off-season, inking a two-year deal. With Collaros still recovering, Masoli knew he’d get a shot at the interim starter’s job, which he won with solid performance in training camp. What he needed — what all quarterbacks need — is playing time.

“I’ve learned a lot and experience on the field is priceless, getting those game reps,” Masoli said. “I’ve been happy to get these opportunities.”

But he did not — and could not — see himself as simply as stopgap measure, there to keep the seat warm for Collaros. Austin needed him to approach the job as if he were The Man — full stop.

“He wasn’t a placeholder. This is why we don’t distinguish between starters and backups,” Austin said. “If you do that, you’re artificially creating a safety net for the guy that’s not starting to not prepare as hard.”

Given that mentality, it’s hardly a surprise that Masoli would have at least some trouble relinquishing the job. It’s important to note that every player, no matter their position on the depth chart — even guys sitting on the couch feel this way — think they should be playing.

“How am I supposed to feel about it? Everybody wants to play and everybody wants to compete,” Masoli said while repeatedly stressing the unusual camaraderie among all the quarterbacks. “We’re all competitors.”

There’s little question that Masoli has earned the respect of his teammates during his time as the starter. Given Collaros’ injury history — he’s yet to play a full season in three years with the Ticats — Masoli needs to stay ready.

“In recent years, you’ve seen how important the backup quarterback is in this league and there’s no better example than our team,” said receiver Andy Fantuz. “Our backup has started six games. He’s a professional, he’s taking it well. He’s getting his work in and he looked really sharp out there.

“We’re happy to have him as our backup and our starter if we need it.”

Masoli has dealt with the unique challenges of his starting stint about as well as they can be handled — including his return to the backup role. Whatever his feelings on the issue — and they’re clearly nuanced — he’s not inclined to make them an issue that could adversely impact the team.

“It won’t phase him,” Austin said. “And if it does, he won’t show it.”

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