It is a one-on-one drill, the same as countless others over the course of a long and gruelling Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp, receivers competing against defensive backs as the quarterbacks sling passes. Then Brian Tyms makes a tough, leaping catch against a defender, screams at the top of his lungs and flexes in celebration.
The mood shifts instantly. The defence is fired up and jawing, now seeking retribution. Tyms’ offensive teammates join in the celebration, look to match his intensity. What was a mundane afternoon drill is now a spectacle, the level of competition raised.
Tyms has played in just one game as a Ticat, the East semifinal last season where he had four catches for 33 yards, but has already assumed something of a leadership role on the club. Part of it is pedigree — his 18 games of NFL experience earns him a level of respect not afforded other CFL newcomers — and part of it is personality, something Tyms has in spades.
“Some coaches don’t like emotion, some do. I try and channel mine but I always feel you need people on the team that I refer to as dogs, savages, those I-don’t-give-a-[expletive] guys that are all or nothing,” the 28-year-old says. “Leadership is about leading by example but it’s also about stepping in when it’s time to step in.”
The Ticats have plenty of veteran leadership but much of it, especially on offence, comes from players who aren’t the fire-and-brimstone type. Receiver Luke Tasker’s professionalism and work ethic, quarterback Zach Collaros’ natural intensity are effective because it’s what comes naturally.
“In college, my coach was always on me to be a rah-rah guy and it just drove me nuts,” Collaros said. “I can’t yell all the time and try and process all this stuff. Having a player like Brian makes it easier for me. I’ll throw in a couple words here and there, but I don’t have to be on guys all the time.”
If Tyms has brought some feistiness to the Hamilton offence then his close friend and fellow receiver, Kevin Elliott, has brought some swagger. He had six catches for 94 yards in the pre-season game against Ottawa — and three post-grab ball spins, his signature celebration move.
“He used to do that stuff in college after big catches, spinning the ball, jawing with the DBs, and some people don’t like it,” Tyms said. “Out there, the game is 90 per cent mental, so if I can mess with you, if that ball spin pisses you off, now you’re focused on the wrong things.”
Head coach Kent Austin frequently talks about the “plurality of leadership,” the concept that any player can play leadership role as long it comes from a place that’s authentic.
“We’re careful not confuse personality with the characteristics of leadership,” Austin said. “We want everybody to act according to their personality but you still have to embody the foundational aspects of leadership that we believe in.”
Austin’s thoughts on the ball spins?
“You have to look at everything in context. I might be good with it in one case, not in another,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to act like catching a curl route is any big deal, it’s kind of what you’re expected to do. Other catches are tougher.”
Contextual leadership is something that Collaros has spent a lot of time thinking about as well. Now in his sixth CFL season, he’s learned that not every player responds in the same way to the same style.
“There are different forms of leadership and the biggest thing is empathy, knowing how guys need to be led,” Collaros said. “Terrence Toliver needs to lead a different way than Brian does, I need to talk to C.J. Gable in a different way than I talk to Ross Scheuerman.”
For Tyms, however, leadership is more linear.
“There’s training camp, there’s 18 games and it’s easy to get complacent, so you need those guys that get excited,” he says. “‘I’m more verbal than some guys. I won’t say that I speak out of turn but I’d rather say what I have to say than bottle it up.
Notes: Wednesday marked the final day of training camp at McMaster University. The team will hold a walk-through at Tim Hortons Field on Thursday before hosting the Toronto Argonauts in a pre-season game Friday night … The game isn’t on television but the Ticats will be streaming the game at Ticats.ca … Notable players that missed practice on Wednesday included Canadian defensive tackles Mike Atkinson and Evan Gill, defensive backs Abdul Kanneh and Will Hill, and Canadian safety Craig Butler. Austin said Butler may not be ready to start the regular season as he recovers from knee surgery.