Ranek the Cats' meow

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

For Josh Ranek and a few of his friends, it's becoming a new game day routine.

Beating up on the Toronto Argos, that is.

As the Hamilton Ticats new starting tailback, Ranek will be looking for a fourth straight victory over the Boatmen this weekend when the eight-team CFL kicks off its 2006 season.

The Ottawa Renegades -- for whom Ranek toiled the previous four seasons -- defeated Toronto 27-17 in the franchise's final game, Nov. 5, 2005. And the Ticats pumped the Argos 31-3 and 21-11 in pre-season tuneups separated by seven days earlier this month.

"Doesn't matter if it's a pre-season game or a regular season game, you still want to win," Ranek said via telephone while coming off the field after a practice earlier this week. "But we'll have a better chance to see where we're at (tomorrow)."

Where the Ticats should be at is a nicer, more comfortable place than either they (5-13) or Ottawa (7-11) were last season, and for that they owe a thank you to the Renegades. Indeed, Hamilton is very much a revamped team, especially on offence.

There's new quarterback Jason Maas, formerly of the Edmonton Eskimos. There are the two newly acquired star receivers in Terry Vaughn and Kwame Cavil. There's spectacular running back/return specialist Corey Holmes, landed when the Ticats traded the first overall pick in the Ottawa dispersal draft to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who desperately wanted to take quarterback Kerry Joseph.

There's also star guard George Hudson, an original Renegade who, like Ranek, signed in Steeltown as a free agent.

They'll soon be joined in the huddle by Pascal Cheron, another offensive guard who swam the free agent waters back to his home in Hamilton. Plus, on occasion, former Renegade backup fullback Gilles Lezi, who was also chosen in the dispersal draft.

The capital connection extends to include former Renegades coach Joe Paopao (offensive co-ordinator) and his assistant, Kani Kauahi (offensive line), who joined the Hamilton staff in the off-season.

"With George and Gilles and Pascal here, we'd spent the whole day together in Ottawa, on the field and in the meetings," said Ranek. "And having Joe and Kani here, it's been an easy transition, as far as the offence goes. The system is very similar to what we did in Ottawa."

Ranek, who was used sparingly in the pre-season, did score a touchdown in each of his first two outings as a Ticat. He ran the ball three times for eight yards in the first and had 13 carries for 35 yards in his Ivor Wynne Stadium debut wearing stripes last Friday.

MAIN MAN

There's no question of his status as the main man in the Ticats backfield -- Canadian Jesse Lumsden signed with the Washington Redskins.

"He looks good, he looks like Josh," Paopao said of his "Seabiscuit", whom he once again plans to ride to the winner's circle. "He plays every play like it's his last freaking play.

"He's going to be productive ... it's nice to know you've got a guy who's reliable and will get the job done."

Ranek, loved by fans because of a diminutive stature and never-quit style, finished fifth in league rushing last season with 1,135 yards and was second in combined yards to Winnipeg's Charles Roberts, with 1907 yards. His goal is to improve on the personal numbers, but he's more interested in winning -- he's never been been to the CFL playoffs.

"I think every team will be more competitive this year, because of what happened with Ottawa and the dispersal draft," said the 28-year-old. "Teams have filled key areas and made themselves much better. "Our biggest challenge is to get everybody on the same page. So far so good."

FOND MEMORIES OF OTTAWA

Even though he left on his own accord, Ranek still holds fond memories of Ottawa. And, naturally, he'd like to see a team return to the nation's capital, as soon as possible.

"It was too bad for the league ... the league took a step backwards (losing Ottawa)," said Ranek. "But I think it was for the best. You never like to lose a team, especially when you only have nine to begin with, but when the proper ownership is in place and prepared to turn it around, a team will be back there."

Meanwhile, Paopao, who had the dual responsibilities of GM and coach in Ottawa, is content to run an offence in Hamilton.

"All you have to do is coach," he said of his new role, "and not worry about anything else. Just do your business."

Gentleman Joe still feels horrible about Ottawa losing its team again. Not only did he play quarterback for the home team at Frank Clair Stadium, but he also holds the dubious distinction of coaching against the Rough Riders (on the B.C. Lions sidelines) in their last game and for the Renegades in theirs.

"There's a great core of CFL fans there," he said. "And support people, like the suppliers and vendors. One of these days I'm going to sit down and write each one of them to say thanks for their support. "I know it didn't work out, but I know football in Ottawa, people still crave it. She's got a great history."


Videos

Photos