Byron Archambault heard his ACL snap.
It was Aug. 27, 2015, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats rookie was running downfield on kickoff coverage. After nine games, he was fourth on the Canadian Football League team in special-teams tackles and he was just starting to figure out the nuances of the professional game.
“I blew right past the first guy that tried to block me and I was getting ready to make the tackle. I made a cut to slip under the last block and I felt the knee give right out,” Archambault said. “You feel it but you can hear it, too. Not cool.”
Drafted in the second round by the Ticats in 2015, Archambault knew right away that his promising first season was over. The initial on-field diagnosis was bad, and subsequent tests confirmed the worst: He faced surgery and a long, arduous rehabilitation.
“You go from having a pretty good start to your first pro season to, boom, you can’t walk,” Archambault said. “It was tough. You see a lot of blackness around you, but you need to make sure you find the light and hang on to it.
“That was the hard part.”
Archambault elected to return home to Montreal where he had the support of friends and family. The 25-year-old played university football for his hometown Carabins, winning a Vanier Cup in 2014, and head coach Danny Maciocia reached out immediately after watching his former player go down.
“Danny texted me the night I was injured to say, if there was anything we can do to help out, let me know,” Archambault said. “Because we were still in season, I didn’t think that I should be taking up resources, slowing down the therapy room for players that needed it.
“I had a place back home that had time and resources for me.”
Living with his mom — another adjustment — and working with trainers Pat Gendron and Pierre-Marie Toussaint, Archambault not only put in long hours to regain the strength and range of motion in his injured joint, but he also shed 35 pounds in order to make himself a more effective special-teams player.
“The year before, I was getting ready for the combine, trying out for the NFL, so I was a bigger linebacker,” said Archambault. “My whole workout regimen changed. I did a lot, a lot, a lot of cardio.”
Archambault’s recovery was every bit as long and difficult as the one endured by quarterback Zach Collaros, who returned to action two weeks ago after suffering the same injury last season. But Archambault hasn’t received nearly as much attention — something he’s grateful for.
“I feel like Zach’s had it harder just because he’s been in the spotlight the whole time,” Archambault said. “He stayed so focused, and that shows tremendous leadership.”
Now fully recovered, Archambault is on the verge of returning to game action, something that could happen as soon as this Sunday against the Calgary Stampeders.
“I smell it. As an athlete, you’re always self-motivated but it’s always encouraging to be part of something bigger,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back on the field with these guys.”
NOTES: The TSN broadcast of Sunday’s Ticat game against the Calgary Stampeders will feature live mikes on quarterbacks Collaros and Bo Levi Mitchell, as well as head coaches Kent Austin and Dave Dickenson. … Ticats receiverChad Owens returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session, but Andy Fantuz and Luke Tasker were still sidelined. Both are expected to play Sunday.