WINNIPEG – One year ago, Jeremiah Masoli was back in Hamilton “freezing [his] butt off” and grinding his way through his off-season workout routine. He was entrenched as the back-up quarterback on a team that was headed into the 2017 campaign with an established starter and Grey Cup aspirations.
It’s now twelve months later and so much has changed.
Masoli is in Winnipeg with the other stars of the CFL, now firmly established as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ No. 1 quarterback with a fresh new contract to match. June Jones is the permanent head coach, his faith in Masoli having changed the course of his career trajectory.
“How all the events unfolded is kind of… almost miraculous from my perspective. It’s crazy to me,” Masoli said Thursday. “Nobody would have guessed we would have started 0-8 or hired June Jones. I’ve always had faith in myself but you never know what’s going to happen in life.”
Masoli is entering his sixth season with the Ticats, arriving in 2013 as part of the talent infusion that accompanied Kent Austin’s installation as vice president of football operations. Much of that core group is here in Winnipeg, including linebacker Simoni Lawrence, receiver Luke Tasker and return man Brandon Banks.
The group met for dinner on Wednesday night, along with linebacker Larry Dean, in a gathering orchestrated by team president Scott Mitchell. Also in attendance were assistant general manager Shawn Burke and assistant head coach Orlondo Steinauer who are in town for this weekend’s CFL Combine.
“We were talking about old memories, old games – we had a ball,” Masoli said. “We talked a little bit about the importance of being on the same page as the leaders on the team.”
While Masoli’s status as an uncontested No. 1 quarterback may be new – his new two-year contract will pay him $700,000 and included a $125,000 signing bonus – his longstanding relationships with his teammates mean little has changed on that front. Tasker said players are happy to see his hard work finally be rewarded.
“He’s got a remarkable story: he’s been a starter, a back up, and on the practice roster. He’s had guys who are out of the league now start games over him,” Tasker said. “He stuck with it and trusted himself for a long time and I think that makes what’s happening now more meaningful.”
Masoli says he’s enjoying CFL Week, with more than 50 players in town for media sessions, fan events, and TSN promotional shoots. He’s been engaging in interviews, comfortable in showing more of his personality now that his role is clearly defined – one that will come with additional responsibilities come the start of the season.
“The quarterback position is inherently a leadership position on the team. I might be a little more vocal, might talk to the younger guys a little more,” Masoli said. “I’m not anticipating it being hard at all because we’re all coming back and we’re all familiar with each other. We’re already a family.”
After playing the role of saviour last season, salvaging the best of an otherwise lost campaign, Masoli knows there will be expectations this season, pressure to prove that last season’s late resurgence was the start of something more.
“I’m loving it. I love being the starter, I love being the guy,” Masoli said. “It’s a different type of feeling coming into the season, everybody is counting you to be good.
“They need you to be good.”