Ticats Andy Fantuz ready for the long road back

Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Andy Fantuz didn’t win Most Outstanding Canadian honours at the glitzy CFL awards ceremony on Thursday night, but that’s hardly the most disappointing thing that’s happened to him this season.

The 32-year-old Fantuz had already set a career high in catches and had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in receiving when he tore his ACL on an innocent looking play against the Eskimos on Oct. 28. He had surgery to repair it last Friday and now faces a long, arduous recovery.

“I know it’s going to be a hard process. It’s nice to have the surgery over and hopefully everything will be more positive from here on in,” said Fantuz, who’s getting around on crutches. “Reality hasn’t really set in yet. I’m just trying to start walking and take it step-by-step. I don’t look at the big picture.”

Fantuz wasn’t the only East Division nominee to lose out Thursday night as the West swept all the major awards with the Calgary Stampeders leading the way with five. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, running back Jerome Messam topped Fantuz for Canadian, Derek Dennis won Most Outstanding Lineman and receiver Devaris Daniels was top rookie. First year head coach Dave Dickenson won coach-of-the-year.

B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player while former Hamilton kicker Justin Medlock won the special teams award over Ticat return man Brandon Banks.

Fantuz, who was named Most Outstanding Canadian in 2010 when he was a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, has trained with Messam in the off-season and considers him a friend.

“He’s had a great year on a team that’s on an incredible run and he deserves all the credit he’s getting,” Fantuz said. “I love to see Canadians shining and I’m happy for him.”

Thursday night’s award ceremony at the Art Gallery of Ontario wasn’t the only item on Fantuz’s itinerary for Grey Cup week. He’s making a visit to Hospital for Sick Children and will be making appearances at the Tiger-Cat team party. But his focus is on the Bash for Brains event Friday night at Lavelle on King Street in Toronto.

It’s a fundraiser for the Concussion Legacy Foundation Canada, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness and increase prevention of head injuries in sports. As someone who has coped with this injury as a player, Fantuz says he’s seen progress during his time in the CFL.

“Our main goal is to educate the next generation and both they and their parents are more aware of the risks and the protocols,” Fantuz said. “But there’s a long way to go: there needs to be more research and better understanding.”

Then next week, knee rehab begins. Fantuz says he’s determined to make it back onto the field — recovery time can be anywhere from six to 18 months — but hasn’t set a timeline for his return.

And where he’ll play next is also a question mark. After five seasons with the Ticats, he’s set to become a free agent in February and while head coach Kent Austin has said he’d like to see Fantuz return, that wasn’t the focus on their end-of-season meeting.

“They just extended their appreciation for the season and wished me luck with the surgery,” Fantuz said. “I was fine with that. I’m not ready to jump into anything.”

Fantuz said he’s spoken to Ticat quarterback Zach Collaros about his recovery from a torn ACL and several players from around the CFL have reached out. So have the Black and Gold faithful.

“I appreciate all the support from fans around the league, but especially in Tiger-Town,” Fantuz said. “I’ve had nothing but best wishes and I really appreciate that. It’s what makes this league so special.”

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