Keepin' the kicker

Hayden Epstein kicks a field goal -- with a little help from Jason Maas -- during the Labour Day...

Hayden Epstein kicks a field goal -- with a little help from Jason Maas -- during the Labour Day Classic. He finished the game three for three. (Edmonton Sun/Brendon Dlouhy)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

We'd better get to know Hayden Epstein.

He's not just going to be here for a good time. He's going to be here for some time.

"We won a game by two points and he went three-for-three in field goals," said head coach Danny Maciocia.

The rookie boss says Epstein may be an import and people may say there's no way a coach can keep an import kicker in the CFL at the end of the day, but Danny Maciocia dares to suggest maybe he's not your average CFL coach.

And maybe that's because he's a heck of a lot more Canadian than most of them have been.

Maciocia has never dreamed of being anything other than a CFL coach, says he thinks all these years all these CFL coaches have followed the unwritten rule that the kicker has to be Canadian.

He wants to know who wrote the unwritten rule. He doesn't buy it. "One facet that is constantly overlooked is the kicking facet," said Maciocia.

In other words, Maciocia may be the first coach in CFL history to come along and believe that the kicker is a more important position than, oh, an offensive line position.

OUT THE WINDOW

If you have the luxury of having starting Canadians in traditional import positions like Davis Sanchez, Kelly Wiltshire and Brock Ralph and you get into some trouble on the offensive line, most coaches would consider bringing in an import to bail him out. But Maciocia says Epstein stays. And he's staying with the offensive line. "That's out the window now. That's changed now," Maciocia says of bringing in import offensive line help.

"I can't take that kid out of there now," he says of Epstein who is five-for-five in two games kicking field goals from 45, 34, 22, 22 and nine yards.

Epstein is taking nothing for granted.

"It's nice to know the head coach is standing behind you and has stated a trust in you, but it doesn't change the way "I'm looking at anything," he said.

"You have to perform each and every game and each and every kick. I'm not looking at the long term, I'm just looking at the next game and the next kick. What happens, happens."

Maciocia would rather have an import kicker than an import offensive lineman if it means the field goals are going to be good.

"I'm the head coach. I have a lot of people in that dressing room relying on my making the right decision," he said.

The new head coach knows fans and media are beginning to focus on the offensive line and the hits quarterback Ricky Ray has been taking.

Maciocia knows Bruce Beaton will be returning to retirement next year and one assumes it's as obvious to him as everybody else that Chris Morris looks like he's on his last legs.

He also knows that with youngsters like Joe McGrath and Patrick Kabongo the combination of mistakes from inexperience and age is a reason Ray has been taking a ridiculous number of hits.

The second half of the Labour Day game in Calgary, Maciocia says, did not show the offensive line in its best light. "Calgary is No. 2 in the league to us in quarterback sacks. They may be No. 1 after that one," he said.

But Maciocia says he's not going to take McGrath or Kabongo out of there to be replaced by an import.

"McGrath and Kabongo are going to be damn, damn good.

"They are having growing pains now. But if they're not having them now, they're going to have them next year. We can be having this conversation now or we can be having it next year."

A YOUNG PUP

Kabongo got El Kabongoed a few times.

"Kabongo is a young pup. There's only one way for Kabongo to learn. He has to deal with it," says Maciocia. "There was a lot to deal with in Calgary on Labour Day.

"It's a hostile environment and you have to go with silent counts. That will be different Friday. It will be in our favor Friday. It was huge for him to go through that.

"But he'll be back in the same situation next week in Saskatchewan. He'll have to go through the same thing. He needs to live it. Again and again."

Maciocia doesn't mention the possibility that this team is going to have to play the Western Final in B.C. It's louder there than anywhere.

But Maciocia is keeping the kicker. And he's keeping the kids on the offensive line in the lineup and in the game.

"Kabongo had a couple of breakdowns. But the more he sees it, the better off we're going to be."

Read into all that what you want, but what I read into it is we'd better start to get to know Hayden Epstein.


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