Call it baptism by rain. And cold. And a little bit of wind.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats launched their 2017 mini-camp on Tuesday at Tim Hortons Field in weather conditions that were less an ideal but were nonetheless a reasonable representation of what players — and kickers in particular — might face during the latter parts of the CFL season.
And given that the Ticats happen to be in the market for a kicker and have brought seven of them to town this week, general manager and head coach Kent Austin decided there was a silver lining in there somewhere.
“We don’t want bad weather but if we have it I think it’s a bonus in evaluating our guys and who can perform,” a soggy Austin said afterwards. “Especially for the kickers.”
The team hasn’t actually signed any of the seven, and just one, former Buffalo Bill Jordan Gay, is believed to be on the team’s exclusive negotiation list. Instead, the players are here as part of a super-sized three-day tryout, with the top performers likely earning an invite to the team’s full training camp at the end of May.
With offensive and defensive players on the field between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., the kickers held a punting session in the morning, then did place-kicking under the watchful eye of Austin, new special teams co-ordinator Dennis McKnight, and a number of the team’s front-office personnel in the afternoon.
“We’re obviously looking for the ability to do all three jobs,” Austin said. “We take them through a process, not just leg strength but directional kicking and placement, and then look at the combination of skill to determine who is the best fit.”
Only one of the seven has CFL game experience. Sergio Castillo was originally signed by the Ticats in 2014, spent time with Winnipeg and Ottawa and is now a free agent. He has six games played, registering 10 of 13 (76.9 per cent) on field goals and a 44.6-yard average on 21 punts.
The remaining five are an eclectic crew: Pat Clarke, who played four seasons with the NCAA’s Buffalo Bulls and has bounced around several indoor and arena leagues; Josh Techeira, who was at Robert Morris of the NAIA from 2012 to 2014; Craig Peterson who has several years of arena experience and attended training camp with the Ottawa Redblacks in 2014; Zac Crosley, who kicked at Ole Miss; and Will Gingery, who handled both the place-kicking and punting duties his senior season with the Wittenberg Tigers of Division III.
This is the second straight season the Ticats have held a glorified casting call to fill the role. Last April, four kickers came to mini-camp, with Cody Mandell and Brett Maher advancing to main camp and Maher ultimately winning the job. But after failing to reach a new deal with the Ticats and hitting the free agent market in February, Maher signed with the Cleveland Browns in March.
Austin acknowledged there was some risk in following the same process but, like the weather, seemed resigned to the fact there was little he could do about it.
“I’ll feel comfortable if we find a good guy,” he said.