Ticats look to converts to build offensive line

For Hamilton Tiger-Cat Everton Williams, a cheat day includes an extra large pizza, a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and about a pound of sour candies from the nearest bulk food section.

A defensive lineman during his four years at the University of Toronto, Williams was converted to an offensive lineman when he joined the Ticats before the 2015 season. There are plenty of reasons why he embraced the move – we’ll get to those in a second – but the meal plan was on the list.

“I don’t have to watch what I eat as much as before, so that’s definitely really cool, ” Williams said, laughing. “I don’t get to go eat fast food every day, but it is nice to have a cheat meal more than once a week and enjoy yourself.”

Williams in one of four players the Ticats have converted from defensive to offensive line since Kent Austin took over as head of football operations before the 2013 season. Mathieu Girard, who played D-line at the University of Montreal, made six starts at centre for Hamilton last season before retiring unexpectedly in March to pursue other career interests. This year, the team has targeted draft pick Kay Okafor, who made the move late in training camp, and Mathieu Dupuis, who was signed to a practice roster deal on Monday.

“It’s not a perfect science but we’re always looking to be creative in that position, ” said Austin. “It’s hard to find quality Canadian offensive lineman in this league.”

Austin says the team looks for certain physical qualities but that the most important element is a player’s willingness to do it.

“They have to be able to bend, they have to have really good feet, they have to be strong at the point of attack. They have to be able to see things, make adjustments – it’s a big transition, ” Austin said. “But forcing a guy to do it can’t be done.”

Williams admits to some trepidation when Drew Allemang, the Ticats’ assistant general manager in charge of Canadian scouting, first approached him about the idea, but ultimately recognized that he could have a longer and more lucrative career on the other side of the football – after quarterbacks, national offensive lineman are some of the highest paid players in the CFL.

“Initially, every defensive lineman hates the thought of becoming an offensive lineman because you have that mentality that they’re just fat guys who are lazy, ” Williams said. “But when I started working with guys like Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben, the first thing that sticks out is their work ethic.”

While Williams can joke about his caloric intake, he did have to add both weight – he went from 275 to just over 300 pounds – and muscle in order to play offensive line at the pro level. The mental transition took even more time.

“A lot of the things that defensive line involves moving forward, outward aggression. Offensive line is more of a controlled aggression. It was really hard for me to wrap my head around that initially, ” Williams said. “I would lose easy matchups simply because I didn’t know the proper body position. So once I learned how to attack while being a little more calm, it made it a lot easier for me.”

With Girard’s retirement and the release of veteran guard Peter Dyakowski, the Ticats are counting on Williams to take the next step this season while younger men like Dupuis, Okafor and draft picks Braden Schram and Brett Golding develop. He’s yet to play in a regular season game but that could change as early as Sunday against Toronto.

It won’t be a moment too soon. Like most offensive linemen, he’s hungry.

Notes: The Ticats also signed American offensive tackle Lamar Holmes, who played 21 games with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons over three seasons from 2012 to 2014, making 19 starts at both left and right tackle. The six-foot-six, 333-pounder was selected by the Falcons in the third round, 91st overall, in the 2012 NFL draft.

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