Argos' Prefontaine all business

Veteran Argos kicker Noel Prefontaine says he's embracing his leadership role with the team leading...

Veteran Argos kicker Noel Prefontaine says he's embracing his leadership role with the team leading up to the Grey Cup. (REUTERS)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

Noel Prefontaine has been around the CFL block long enough to know when a team has turned the corner, when a team goes from average to good, when the all-important step to elite is achieved.

Ultimately, Sunday’s Grey Cup will define this Argos season, its legacy, its spot in CFL history.

“Bottom line, I don’t even know if we’re peaking yet,’’ Prefontaine said. “But we’re winning at the end.”

It’s no coincidence the Argos began to mount some semblance of momentum when Ricky Ray returned from a month-long injury absence, unable to get a win over Winnipeg in his return, but more than good enough the following week in Regina, where the Argos booked their first home playoff date since 2007.

In back-to-back post-season wins over Edmonton at home and on the road against the well-rested Als, the Argos weren’t able to play an entire 60-minute game without moments of indiscretion, penalties, turnovers or lack of execution on either side.

In a nutshell, the Argos haven’t played their best and perhaps on Sunday they’ll be able to piece together all the necessary execution that’s required in all three of football’s phases.

As hot as the Argos have been, the Stamps have been just as hot, if not hotter.

In a quarterback league such as the CFL, Ray is as good as it gets, in sync, in rhythm with his receivers, the beneficiary of enough pass protection that allows the pocket pass to go through his progression.

“We’ve had our problems during the year,’’ Prefontaine said. “But I began to see the growth during my rehab period, watching how the guys gelled, how they’ve all come together.

“There’s no panic on this team, even when we’ve been down to Edmonton and Montreal. A lot of that has to do with Ricky’s presence.”

For close to three months, Prefontaine went through the painful process of rehabbing an injured hip, a pre-existing condition he brought into the season, one that led to a field-goal inefficiency that eventually forced him to seek surgery.

He’s not completely recovered, but he’s good enough to provide a veteran presence in the kicking game that can’t be measured in net yards.

Whether it was following Wednesday’s breakfast, in the moments leading up to the Argos’ first practice day or in the quiet time before a team meeting, Prefontaine was going to make a point of addressing the team’s young core.

“As one of the captains, I’d be doing the team a disservice if I didn’t say anything,’’ Prefontaine said. “Everyone needs to know that they’re mature enough not to do certain things.”

As someone who has established so many relationships, personal and professional, living in the Toronto area, Prefontaine is well aware of the many distractions.

It kills him to be away from his family, but the goal cannot be compromised.

“This is big, as big as it gets,’’ Prefontaine said. “This is, afterall, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The 100th Grey Cup only happens once, obviously. Everyone must know that we must prepare to play and not put any added pressure.

“The distractions must be addressed.”

The Argos will attend Thursday night’s league awards, support teammate Chad Owens, who is up against Calgary’s Jon Cornish for Most Oustanding Player, and then go in official lock-down mode.

“Once those awards are completed, it’s lock down,’’ Prefontaine said. “It has to be and it must be. Everyone must understand why we’re here.”

Fittingly, it’s Calgary that will provide Toronto’s final opposition, a team that helped usher in the Argos’ home opener in a game Prefontaine now looks back as a harbinger of things to come.

“We just found a way to win,’’ he said. “For the most part of the season, finding ways to win is what we basically did.

“We’re playing a different type of football right now. It wasn’t clean in Montreal, but we found a way.”

 

RINGING ENDORSEMENT

Noel Prefontaine normally does his best work courtesy of his left foot, which is understandable given the position he plays.

Given the role he assumes, one he gladly accepts, it’s his right hand that will hopefully touch a nerve with some of his younger Argo teammates as Grey Cup week unfolds.

It’s very rare for the veteran Prefontaine to sport his Grey Cup ring from 2004, but he’s taken it out of his jewelry box, proudly displaying it as a symbol of what awaits if a win on Sunday is produced.

“Once or twice a year,’’ said Prefontaine when asked about the frequency of donning the ring. “It’s not for my pleasure, it’s only when someone wants to see it.”

Talk about a ringing endorsement, the item reminds Prefontaine of the road the Argos took eight years ago that led them to Ottawa and a win over B.C. on the CFL’s biggest stage.

“It’s something I’m very fond of,’’ Prefontaine said. “I took this out and decided to wear it because I want the younger guys to understand what’s at stake.

“If this is something that gets their juices going, if this is something that makes team say: ‘Wow! I want one of these.’ They should be able to see it.


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