He's kickin' in the wind

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

Hayden Epstein. Torrey Pines High.

If you're a scout, are you really going to go watch this guy? Or go golf?

Paul Jones admits he didn't intentionally go to scout the Eskimos new import kicker. It all sort of happened by accident.

"I didn't intentionally go look at him. I was watching other players at a Michigan game in Ann Arbor. It was cold and the wind was blowing. And he kicked a couple nice field goals. Any time you see somebody handle those cold Canadian-type conditions and do well, you tend to remember him no matter what position he plays."

Jones is the Eskimos talent scout who carries the title of general manager in the new CEO, COO setup with the flagship franchise. And he's not out there combing the woods for import kickers.

ON THE READY LIST

"I always keep a ready list at every position including kicker in case of injuries. I put Hayden's name down on the ready list and started following him a little bit."

First thing he noticed was that the kid was in four bowl games in college, the Citrus three times and the Orange Bowl once and won three of them and kicked well in all those big games.

He also noted Michigan thus had to practise in the cold in December in Ann Arbor every year.

"It's not Edmonton but it gets pretty cold in Ann Arbor, Michigan."

The other thing he noted was that he was a punter and a kicker.

"It's pretty hard to find a guy who does both. He was definitely a guy for the ready list when Jacksonville drafted him with their seventh pick. Any time an NFL team takes a kicker in the draft, he has to be pretty good.

"When you only have seven rounds in a draft, you aren't going to waste one on a kicker unless you think he can be pretty good."

While he cashed paycheques from Jacksonville, Minnesota and Denver in the NFL, Epstein played in but 15 games and is five-for-nine lifetime as an NFL kicker to go with his five-for-five in the CFL.

He missed an entire season due to injury in Minnesota.

He went to NFL Europe and won the World Bowl with Berlin.

Kicking in the cold and winning. Hmmmm.

That's why Hayden Epstein was chosen by Danny Maciocia to break the import kicker barrier in the CFL, if that indeed is what we're dealing with here. Not to mention something not too far from being the Jewish barrier in pro football.

OK. There have been other Jewish football players. Lyle Alzado. Sid Gillman. Sid Luckman. Benny Friedman. That's about it, of any note, in the NFL, I think. Al Davis and Marv Levy both made it into the NFL Hall of Fame as coaches. If the idea is that we might as well get to know Hayden Epstein because he's going to be here for a while, maybe we start there.

"I don't see myself having a chance to be some sort of inspiration for Jewish kids," he said. "Right now, I just feel lucky to be playing a game for a living and if I could inspire any young person, let alone a Jewish young person, that would be great."

It's hard to believe, but Epstein swears he came to the Eskimos not having a clue that they had this import/non-import ratio thing going up here and there's no history of import kickers lasting any length of time.

"No. I came in kind of blind about all of that. I heard everyone talk. I've learned a lot about it lately. But it didn't make me look at it differently. The numbers game is something the coaches have to deal with. The athlete just has to go out there and perform.

"I came here with no expectations. I just planned to go out there and perform, to do the best I could."

He says he never planned to be a pro football player.

GAVE IT A TRY

"I grew up in San Diego playing soccer. But all my friends went out for the football team in high school. So I gave it a try and went 12 for 13 with a longest of 42 in my first year. We won our high school championship. I did well. I ended up an All American in high school and accepted a scholarship from Michigan.

"I had a great experience in my four years at Michigan. Great coaching. Four bowl games. We beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl to be No. 1. Won the World Bowl playing for Berlin. That was a great experience.

"Grey Cup? That would be nice. But that's a long way away. All I'm looking at right now is playing this next game."


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