Ernest Manning high school, where the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are practicing this week, is a perfectly nice facility nestled in an affluent suburb about 20 minutes drive from downtown Calgary.
But last season their football team went 0-6, finished dead last in their league and were outscored by their opponents 20 to 202.
In other words, it’s the perfect place for the Ticats on a lot of levels.
Coming off last Saturday’s debacle against the Stampeders in which they were beaten 60-1 – the second worst defeat in franchise history – the team now faces the unenviable tasks of a) recovering from their utter humiliation b) blocking out the maelstrom of negativity emanating from the fan base back in Hamilton and c) preparing for an Edmonton team that’s a perfect 5-0.
The healing process started Sunday when players had a day to themselves. Roughly a dozen of them, including quarterback Zach Collaros, receiver Luke Tasker and offensive lineman Ryan Bomben and Mike Filer, rented a van and spent the day at Lake Louise, a two hour drive west of the city.
“You got to keep having fun in a situation like this, if you don’t things just keep getting worse,” Tasker said. “But even if you win the battle to be positive every day, we still have to win a game.”
It certainly wasn’t an off day for head coach Kent Austin and the rest of his staff, who remained at the hotel to review the game film – then hopefully burning it – while also beginning their preparation for the showdown with the Eskimos next Friday.
“The game snowballed on us. We gave up five big plays almost in a row in all three phases. Can’t do that against a really good football team,” he said. “We were not a good football team. We’ll be better this week.”
Austin faced more questions about his job security on Monday as well as queries on the status of his relationship with team owner Bob Young and CEO Scott Mitchell. Both offered some public words of support after the loss and Austin said the pair have been “very positive, very supportive.”
But he bristled at a follow up question.
“How much more you want to harp on this?” Austin said. “I’m focussed on doing the best job I can do for these guys and they are supportive. When that changes, if it ever changes, I will let you know.”
Speaking of changes, there’s likely to be some roster shuffling before the contest against Edmonton. Defensive back Abdul Kanneh was injured against Calgary and is expected to miss several weeks – yes, it was his first game as a Ticat – while linebacker Simoni Lawrence looks set to return after missing the Massacre at McMahon.
Lawrence was his usual effervescent self at practice on Monday, not in response to the loss, necessarily, but just in keeping with his personality.
“The best thing to shake off these losses to do is for everybody to be yourself, don’t waver from who you are,” he said.
While certainly aware of the negativity surrounding the club at the moment – Lawrence is active on social media and the red hot Twitter fire directed at this team at the moment is hard to miss – the veteran linebacker has kept his sense of humour. As bad as the Ticats have been, the East Division’s terrible record against the West has allowed them to stay in the playoff race.
“We’re 0-5 and two games out of second place,” Lawrence said, laughing hard. “It’s crazy, man.”
Funny stuff. At least for now.
Notes: After missing the first five games of the season, defensive backs Emanuel Davis and Craig Butler returned to practice on Monday but are still likely a couple of weeks from returning to the line up… the team also added American defensive back Don Unamba to the practice roster. Unamba, 28, has played in parts of three seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2014), Saskatchewan Roughriders (2015) and Montreal Alouettes, registering 51 defensive tackles, 33 special teams tackles and one interception… Canadian wide receiver Jacob Scarfone has returned to the University of Guelph for the 2017 U Sports season. Scarfone was selected by Hamilton in the sixth round, 47th overall, in the 2017 CFL Draft last May.